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Could we really see new laws on temperature in the workplace?

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Earlier this week, the GMB workers' union called for a legal limit on how hot it can be in a workplace, as the Met Office issued its red weather warning for extreme heat. 

It raises a number of interesting questions. Could we really see the law in this area change? What are the risks for employers?  And what do employers and HR leaders need to bear in mind?

In reality, there is unlikely to be any change in the law in the near future because no employment legislation has yet been proposed to date. It would therefore need to join the long queue of other employment legislation which is currently awaiting to be addressed.  
The more frequently we see such extreme temperatures, the higher up the government’s agenda it will go and the more likely it will be addressed, but for now it is last in line in a long, long queue.
And would any new legislation apply to just those exposed to the elements, for example builders, or others with outside jobs? HSE guidance makes a distinction between differing types of working environments, and therefore I would expect that any such law introduced would do the same.
Employers can likely expect this in any future legislation, so businesses in all sectors need to take note.

It's also important to cover off what employers need to do now, in the absence of new legislation, which really we won't see for quite some time if at all.

Employees are not automatically entitled to a day off work even in an extreme heatwave, however employers need be mindful of their duty of care to employees to provide, as far as reasonably practical, a safe working environment without risks to health.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992 do not state a temperature, but say that temperature conditions must be ‘reasonable’.

Allowances that employers should consider making in the extreme heat include; agreeing to employees’ requests to work from home so that they can avoid public transport, allowing them to have more frequent rest breaks, ensuring workplaces are well ventilated and educating employees about the early signs of heat stroke and how it can be avoided.

For those employees who work outdoors doing strenuous jobs, employers should consider providing them with access to shaded areas to rest and free chilled drinking water. It may also be appropriate to reschedule work where possible so that it can be carried out at cooler times of the day.

 

Rhona Darbyshire is partner and head of the employment team at law firm Cripps