It’s that time of the year, when, as we leave work or get home, we can smell someone nearby enjoying the BBQ we wish we had the energy to organise.
Finally, summer is here!
The beers are in the fridge, the icebox is full, and the dregs of last year’s sun cream are finally getting used up, does the simple life get better than this? Then, before you know it, you’ve been slapped in the face by Monday, she is back with a vengeance, because this isn’t just any old Monday, oh no, this is a hot July Monday!
You know the type; you walk into work after spending your weekend baking in the sun to find Ashley from the sales department moaning about how your office has been doing the same thing. “Just how exactly has the office reached 10°C hotter than the optimistic forecasted highs anyway?” they say, “and can someone remind me why on earth there isn’t an opening window in this building?”
The team are sweating buckets and Ashley says “if the temperature gets above 18°C, we can all go home”, so now the email server is running at a snail’s pace as it tries to deliver the many emails just sent to you asking the same question, “can we actually go home when the temperature rises?”
I am probably not the first to tell you that sadly, there is actually no upward or downward limit for working – you might not let on to your team, but I am sure you’d like the day off to enjoy the sunshine too.
The guidance states that the temperature should be above 13°C if work is of a physical nature or above 16°C for sedentary work, however, the upward limit is negotiable with the expectation that an employer should ensure the working temperature is ‘comfortable’.
A meaningful maximum figure cannot be given due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries. In such environments, it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present. Factors other than air temperature, ie radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity, become more significant and the interaction between them become more complex with rising temperatures.HSE – Temperature: What the law says
So, what should you be doing when the temperature is deemed uncomfortable? The HSE advocates completing a thorough thermal risk assessment for areas where employees have advised that the temperature is uncomfortable. Your risk assessment should identify several possible controls, however, to help you on your way, CRAMS have put together a few tips and tricks to keep everyone happy, healthy and cool this summer.
Reducing temperature related discomfort at work
Sometimes the simple things are the ones we forget to consider but hydration is very important, especially in warmer conditions.
Ensure your workers have constant access to a safe and cool water supply, or frequent breaks if drinks cannot be kept in the work area.
When we are hot, we lose water faster than usual and if we are not replenishing this fluid, we will start to feel the effects of dehydration.
Some of the symptoms of dehydration are mild, such as reduced urine, dry skin or dry mouth, however, dizziness, feeling tired or sleepy and headaches can all be experienced with even mild cases of dehydration, which is likely to affect the quality of an employees work and could even have dangerous consequences in high-risk tasks.
Another simple but important way of controlling workers’ comfort in hot areas is allowing weather appropriate clothing. Uniforms and dress codes should be considered carefully to identify whether any changes can be made without compromising staff safety.
In an office environment, a person completing a thermal risk assessment may change a dress code to allow staff to wear shorts or skirts instead of trousers to allow staff to stay cooler in the office.
In a construction environment, a thermal risk assessment may allow workers to wear a thin high-vis vest rather than thick-lined high vis coats which do not compromise protection but will increase discomfort in warmer conditions.
Hierarchy of controls
With regards to PPE, if you have ever spoken to a Health and Safety professional, you may be familiar with the term ‘Hierarchy of Controls’ which is basically a flow chart of considerations when controlling risks and hazards.
PPE is at the bottom of the hierarchy, meaning that PPE is only the answer if there is no other way to mitigate the risk.
So, for example, before justifying making earplugs mandatory in a factory, using quieter machines, or operating them differently may be considered first.
Therefore, your risk assessments should have already identified any other possible controls before deciding PPE was required, however, if your staff are finding work temperatures uncomfortable, or overheating, a new risk assessment should be completed, it may well make a different control method, which previously seemed unnecessary, now reasonably practicable.
Fans or extractors
If the above suggestions have not improved your workforce’s comfort in the heat it is time to look at other measures.
Desktop fans are reasonably inexpensive, although if you must buy one for every workstation, the cost may soon add up.
You may want to prioritise areas where pregnant women or people with conditions which may affect their temperature or their ability to control it.
In larger rooms for bigger impact, extractor fans can be fitted to the roof which creates better airflow and circulation whilst removing the hottest air from the top of the building.
Many offices are still without aircon, due to the installation being a large initial investment.
If you can’t afford a full system, smaller units on wheels are readily available from many popular retailers for hotter areas and are rated for the size area they are most effective for, so you can pick a unit which performs efficiently.
Do you have any ideas for controlling the temperature that we haven’t mentioned? We would love to hear it, please comment on this page or the page you found the article and we will gladly add your tips in for our followers to see.