International Employment Lawyer
Unions in the UK have called on the government to provide legal protection against working in high temperatures for employees.
Forecasters are predicting that climate change will bring about more frequent bouts of extreme heat in the coming years. With temperatures rising to more than 40°C in parts of the UK this week, the GMB union argues that workers should not be legally allowed to work in temperatures of higher than 25°C – currently, there is no legal maximum working temperature, so an employee cannot down tools when it gets too hot.
Although UK law requires employers to have thermometers so that workers can see what the temperature is, the lack of an upper-temperature limit set out in law means that it is “for employers to make their own assessment as to what a reasonable workplace temperature is,” notes Caroline Baker, partner at GQ|Littler.
In addition, there is no specific law that addresses the temperature for employees who work outside. “That being said, the law generally requires employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and to assess and review risks,” adds Baker.
“For all employers with employees working in exceptionally hot conditions, this will include making an assessment about the impact of the heat and whether there are any actions that the employer can take (for example, allowing a more relaxed dress code, changing working hours to avoid the hottest time of the day, providing more breaks or water) that could reduce the risks of the heat,” advises Baker.
“It is also important for employers to identify particularly vulnerable employees (for example, pregnant women, those with disabilities exacerbated by the heat or older employees) and assess the working environment for those higher risk groups.”
“Fundamentally, employers must ensure that the working environment is safe for all employees,” she continues. “Even in relation to the risk brought by these hot weather conditions, this will be a much wider assessment and consider a broader range of factors than just the ambient temperature.”
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