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Too hot to work? 

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With temperatures hitting record-breaking highs of 39°C, is it ever too hot to work? Tina Chander, partner & head of employment law at Wright Hassall, sets the record straight

Working in the heat can lead to a loss of concentration, tiredness, dizziness, fainting and confusion, which can negatively impact productivity, so employers need to establish a more comfortable working environment in which the workforce remains safe.

 In fish and chip shops it gets very warm regardless of the weather but in the summer undertaking usual duties can become unbearable. But what can employers do to make working conditions more palatable for employees, whilst also ensuring the continued operation of the kitchen? Unfortunately, due to the nature of the work, there are limited options.

Installing air-conditioning, fans or other cooling devices to help make it cooler is one option, as is good ventilation for filtering out heat, fumes and smoke. Apart from that it comes down to mitigating the health and safety risks to workers, such as:

Ensuring staff take regular breaks outside the kitchen

Providing a designated area for employees to go and cool down

•  Making sure employees stay hydrated

Training staff as to the risks of high temperatures

Rescheduling deliveries where possible so they arrive and are unloaded at cooler times in the day

Having regular temperature checks for staff so their temperate can be monitored throughout their working day and action taken to reduce this if it is deemed too high.

What does the law say?

There isn’t a maximum temperature stipulated by UK law whereby it’s deemed unsafe to work.

The Trades Union Congress has previously endorsed a maximum temperature of 30°C, but both the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace Regulations simply state that workplace temperatures must be ‘reasonable’ and/or ‘comfortable’.

 Having said that, employee wellbeing is still regulated.

 The Code of Practice asserts that workers be supplied with the appropriate tools to monitor indoor temperatures, and that ‘effective and sustainable’ ventilation be provided. Furthermore, the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 specifically recommends concessions be made to manage the increased risks heat poses to pregnant women.

 Maintaining the wellbeing of staff is critical for both productivity and maintaining staff morale. If that means relaxing dress codes or working hours then a reasonable approach should be taken. 

Whilst prolonged periods of extreme heat are uncommon in the UK, due to the risks they bring about, it is important employers are prepared to adjust working practices to avoid unsafe working conditions. 

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