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Advice on protecting workers from future heatwaves

Experts and unions have shared their recommendations for ensuring worker safety during soaring temperatures, which are expected to occur more frequently due to global heating.


The record temperatures recorded across the UK on 18-19 July are likely to become much more frequent in future years. According to scientists, the chances of seeing 40°C days in the UK could be as much as ten times more likely in our current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence.

There is currently no maximum temperature limit for workplaces in the UK, but all workers are entitled to an environment where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled. Heat is classed as a hazard and therefore comes with legal obligations like any other hazard.

John Rowe, Acting Head of Operational Strategy at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), commented:

“It’s vital employers are aware of their responsibility to ensure their indoor workplaces are at a reasonable temperature. All workers have a right to a safe working environment and their employers should discuss working arrangements with them.”

HSE provides advice for employers on practical steps through its guide to heat stress in the workplace.

Meanwhile, trade union GMB has called for the introduction of a maximum temperature limit in the workplace and recommends that workplace adjustments for extreme heat include:

  • Flexible working and travel arrangements
  • Extra breaks
  • Easy water access
  • Adequate cooling systems/air conditioning
  • Flexible dress codes
  • Provision of protective clothing if needed (e.g. for those working outdoors).

Lynsey Mann, GMB Health and Safety Officer, said:

“Bosses need to do everything possible to keep workplaces cool, and more importantly, safe. This can be as simple as letting people wear more casual clothing and providing proper hydration.

“High levels of UV exposure also mean that outdoor workers have a much higher risk of developing skin cancer. Simply allowing more breaks and providing sun cream and protective clothing, such as hats with neck covers, can help reduce this risk.

“Ultimately there needs to be a legal maximum working temperature, in the same way we have a legal minimum working temperature. And it is in employer’s interests – workers who are overheating aren’t going to be at their best.”

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