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HSE warns employers to prepare for warmer future

Employers must act now to ensure workplaces are ready for warmer weather in the future, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced.

After July’s record-breaking heatwave, which reached temperatures of more than 40°C, the HSE has advised businesses to make extreme heat part of their long-term planning.

The Met Office has advised that the increase in frequency, duration and intensity of hot weather in the UK is clearly linked to human-caused global warming, and that the trend for hotter weather spells is likely to continue.

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John Rowe, HSE’s acting head of operational strategy, said: “We expect employers to take this recent weather event as the prompt to review how they assess the risk of high temperatures in their workplace and identify now those changes that will future proof them.

“All workplaces need to acknowledge that the working environment is changing. There are low-cost adaptations to the structure of work, but things like improved ventilation and air conditioning should also be considered, which will involve investment in the workplace”

HSE guidelines recommend steps like creating through-drafts, and changing shift patterns to maximise employees’ comfort in hot conditions.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at HR consultancy Peninsula, told HR magazine that although UK businesses generally have solid measures to support employees during cold winter months, heatwaves were a relatively unusual concept for Brits.

This, however, does not mean it is not important, she said.

"Employers should ensure there are adequate initiatives to ensure staff are comfortable and safe; this might be by introducing fans and air conditioning, relaxing dress codes, allowing longer or more frequent rest breaks and providing cool refreshments.

"With conditions that similar weather will continue, employers should future-proof their organisations, so they aren't caught out every time the temperatures soar."

HSE's Rowe also emphasised the heat's future role in the workplace: “[The] extreme heat that we have witnessed of late isn’t going to stop, and we want employers to plan and respond to this now.”

Full HSE guidance on temperature control in the workplace is available here.