Office Working During Hot Weather: Guidance and Tips

June 28, 2019
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We may not typically associate British summertime with soaring temperatures and endless blue skies, but when we do have the odd hot day, it can be difficult for us to stay cool at work. We are going to help answer some legal FAQs and provide top tips for keeping comfortable at work.

Can It Ever Be Too Hot to Work in the UK?

There is no legal minimum or maximum working temperature in the UK, but that doesn’t mean it is never too hot to work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) say that working temperatures should provide ‘reasonable comfort’ to workers, and provide recommendations such as:

The temperature in a workplace should be at least 16 °C, or if the work involves rigorous effort, it should be at least 13 °C.

Other factors such as humidityair flow and worker clothing and movement also play a part in determining if the temperature in a working environment is reasonably comfortable. As there is no recommended office temperature in UK law, it is up to each workplace to determine their own ideal temperature.

If you do find the heat is making you uncomfortable, this can impact on your working ability. You may find you cannot concentrate, your productivity will drop and you may suffer from heat stress.

Young man wearing open necked shirt giving presentation

What is Heat Stress?

When you are too hot, your body will try to cool you down. It does this by increasing blood flow to the surface of the body, by sweating and by radiation and convection from the body’s surface. When your body cannot effectively do this, you can suffer from heat stress.

Symptoms of heat stress can include having a red face, excessive sweating, a heat rash, muscle cramps, dehydration and fainting. If allowed to continue, heat stress can cause heat exhaustion, and this is a severe disorder that can lead to death in extreme cases.

Some working environments are more at risk of being too hot to work in than others. For example, those in well-ventilated offices are less likely than those working in a kitchen to feel the effects of a heatwave. However, we all have a responsibility to stay safe and healthy at work, no matter our working environment.

Woman at work sat at desk with fan looking warm.

What Are Employer Responsibilities During Hot Weather?

All employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of employees. Whilst there is no legal requirement to provide air con in offices, employees will work better when they are comfortable. It is therefore in everyone’s interests to make the environment as reasonably comfortable as possible.

Employers should also take extra care to protect any vulnerable people in the office. Hot weather can make people feel tired and less energetic than usual, especially for young and elderly people, pregnant women, and people who may be on medication. Vulnerable people in your office may appreciate extra rest breaks or a desk fan to improve air circulation.

Pregnant lady stands at office window looking warm

You should consider any workers who may be fasting too, such as those observing Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims cannot eat or drink between sunrise and sunset, so they may be more likely to become fatigued as the day goes on. Do what you can to help these workers, for example, hold meetings in the mornings, allow flexible working time or approve holidays over Ramadan.

To assess whether you could do more to help your staff, employers could carry out a thermal risk assessment. This would help decide if the working conditions are reasonably comfortable, or whether more could be done to ease the stress of working in hot weather.

Top Tips to Keep Cool in An Office

So long as the office is deemed to provide reasonable working conditions, employers don’t have a legal obligation to make extra allowances. However, most employers will see the benefit of having healthy, happy staff. Likewise, employees need to make sure they are looking after themselves during a heat wave. There are various things both employees and employers can do to stay cool.

Top Tips

  • Relax the dress code. If office wear usually means wearing a suit, relax this rule in hot weather. Allow more informal wear such as no ties or no suit jackets to cope with the heat.
  • Provide refreshments. By law, employees should have access to fresh drinking water, but providing ice and squash will refresh people even further.
  • Offer desk fans, or temporary cooling units to improve air circulation and keep people cool at their desks.
  • Use curtains and blinds to block out sunlight to prevent the office from getting hotter.
  • Avoid over exertion. If you usually go out or exercise at lunch, take care not to do too much, and consider staying out of the sun where possible.

close up of hands holding glass and pouring water from cooler in office.

We hope this guidance and practical tips prepare you, just in case the sun makes an appearance this summer. Do what you can to stay cool and comfortable at work during any hot weather we may have this year.

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