Talking about the weather...

26th of September 2018 Article by Lynn Webster
Talking about the weather...

UK reporter Lynn Webster looks back on a long hot summer, and its impact on the workplace.

The weather, and the British obsession with talking about it, has been puzzling outsiders for decades however we have seen some extremes this summer. And there has been much debate about the impact of the ‘heatwave’ on the workplace.

Definition of a heatwave by meteorologists - when the daily maximum temperature of more than five consecutive days exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5°C.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations require employers to maintain a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace. The minimum temperature is 16°C, or 13°C if work involves physical activity, however the regulations do not specify a maximum temperature.

Hot weather can have a significant impact on workplace performance. According to the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers, indoor temperatures that exceed 28°C for long periods are likely to result in reduced productivity.

Research on the impact of overheating on productivity using data from the Inter-Departmental Business Register on the economic consequences of heatwaves concluded in 2010 there was a significant cost to the economy with approximately five million staff days lost due to overheating above 26°C. Based on an average staff cost of €166 per day, this resulted in a loss of some €832 million.

This summer called for a sensible approach with suggestions to relax corporate dress codes and to introduce flexible working times to avoid the hottest part of the day. The potential health impacts for employees of specific heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat oedema, heat syncope (dizziness and fainting due to dehydration), and heat exhaustion required additional risk assessment and consideration.

A parliamentary committee has called on the UK government to consult on introducing a maximum workplace temperature, especially for work that involves significant physical effort, to tackle lower employee productivity during heatwaves. They have published a new report, Heatwaves: Adapting to Climate Change, in which it makes a series of recommendations to help workers cope in overheating work environments.

This was not so positively received by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) with Duncan Spencer, its head of information and intelligence, saying: “While it is important that employees are able to work in reasonable temperatures, introducing prescriptive legislation around maximum temperatures would be an unnecessary step too far.

"Employers are already legally obliged to ensure workplaces are not too cold or too hot. It is key to note that one size does not fit all. Every workplace is different and every worker is different, in so far as what temperature they feel comfortable at.”


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