The Met Office has issued an amber "heat health watch warning" this week for parts of England – urging people to stay out of the sun when it is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm.
It was followed by the NHS issuing guidance for hot weather as temperatures soared past 30 degrees.
"We advise the public to take care in the sun, especially when temperatures are potentially reaching 30 degrees or more throughout this week – either stay out of the sun or be sensible and don’t go out in the strongest sunshine hours (11am to 3pm)", a Met Office spokeswoman said.
Members of the public were also told to take precautions in the sun, including covering up, wearing sun screen and drinking plenty of water.
But what happens if it’s your job to be outside – or you’re trapped in a stiflingly hot office or factory?
Hot weather advice
Can they make you work in the heat?
The good news is that your employer has a responsibility to look after you while you’re at work – the bad news is that the exact rules surrounding it are fuzzy.
“In terms of the amber health warnings employers have a duty of care to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment,” Jane Crosby firm, law firm Hart Brown, told Mirror Money.
“If employees feel that their wellbeing is being put at risk due to their working conditions, then employees can challenge employers and ask them to address the situation.”
But sadly that doesn’t mean you get the day off.
“It may be that employers can put in protective measures in place such as only working through the cooler parts of the day or carrying out duties undercover during this period of high temperatures,” Crosby added.
The good news is that, because there’s no official limit, you can get action taken whatever the temperature as long as people think it’s uncomfortable.
“If a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort, your employer should carry out a risk assessment, and act on the results of that assessment,” explain experts at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The rules about working in the heat
The specific rules all come down to the word “comfortable”.
“A meaningful maximum figure cannot be given due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries,” HSE explains.
“The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment. Regulation 7 deals specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces and states that:
"During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.
“However, the application of the regulation depends on the nature of the workplace, such as a bakery, a cold store, an office, a warehouse.”
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Getting to work
Generally, hot weather shouldn’t be a reason to avoid travelling to work, but public transport does occasionally grind to a halt in extreme temperatures and it’s worth having a policy in place so that staff know what they should do if cancellations are expected or delays happen.
As with working conditions, for some groups of workers it may be appropriate to make special provisions.
Special consideration should be made for anyone who may experience greater problems in extreme temperatures because of medical or other conditions.
If someone is pregnant or on medication, they may need more frequent rest breaks and be given a personal solution, such as a portable fan or air cooling unit, if there is no fixed air conditioning.
Similarly, those working under direct sunlight, or in specialist protective clothing, may need special consideration, as working outside without adequate protection may increase the risk of skin cancer and working in heavy protective clothing could increase the risk of dehydration.
Water, food and fighting
It’s important to avoid dehydration in hot weather, so it’s a good idea to make sure there is easy access to drinking water and encourage staff to swap their morning coffee for a cool drink.
The average recommended daily water intake of 2 litres for women and 2.5 litres for men should be increased during heatwaves.
It’s also worth reminding everyone to avoid heavy meals and to stay out of the midday sun, both of which can lead to health issues, such as plummeting blood pressure or sun stroke.
And finally, it’s worth making sure that managers watch out for tempers that rise together with the temperature.
The connection between hotter than average weather and higher levels of aggression is generally acknowledged, even if the reason why it happens is still up for debate, with physiological and psychological reasons in the mix.
At the other extreme, high temperatures can mean a loss of concentration and increased tiredness, making workers more likely to put themselves or others at risk.
For companies with a strict dress policy, it may be worth considering offering a dress-down option during hot weather.
It doesn’t have to mean you end up with a beach code, but could make a major difference to comfort levels for staff, which will have a direct impact on the dynamics in the workplace.
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