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Beating the Heat: How the Yellow Heat-Health Alert affects both Employees and Employers

Calendar June 28, 2023

Beating the Heat: How the Yellow Heat-Health Alert affects both Employees and Employers


Almost a year ago, the Met Office issued a hot weather warning and almost two weeks ago a Yellow Heat-Health Alert was issued, the first of what may likely be many this year. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Met Office said the alert would apply for 72 hours from 9am on Friday. It was quickly raised from yellow to a more severe amber warning in eastern and southern England, and the Midlands.

The amber alert indicates high temperatures which could affect all ages and even impact the health service. Temperatures were forecasted to hit 30c and some thunderstorms were expected too. These thunderstorms are expected to continue through the month as are the high heat waves through the summer. This means that apart from already worrying about a heatstroke and experiencing the symptoms of heat exhaustion, there is also a chance of disruption to travel, power cuts and some localised flooding from the heaviest showers.

To help combat this and understand the implications of such freak weather conditions, we’ve compiled a few FAQs in accordance with guidance given by the Health and Safe Executive (HSE) to help both sides of the employment sphere.

Workers’ rights during hot weather

1.Can I leave my workplace if the weather becomes too hot?

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 places a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” working temperature in the office. Your employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in particular circumstances.

Our suggestion for employers:
If you have fans and air con available, switch them on to keep the workplace comfortable. Employers should also promote the importance of drinking water throughout the day to prevent dehydration and provide staff with suitable drinking water in the workplace.

2.Is it acceptable for me to wear casual clothing in the office during warm weather?

Employers are typically entitled to insist on certain standards of appearance, particularly for customer facing roles and may also need employees to adhere to certain personal protective equipment (PPE) for shoes and clothing for health and safety reasons.

Our suggestion for employers:
If possible, employers should consider relaxing their uniform or dress code requirements during hot weather for example with wearing ties or suits. The HSE also recommend that employers can also look into providing weather-appropriate PPE and encourage employees to remove PPE when resting to cool off, such as during lunch breaks.

3.What if my trains are delayed due to the thunderstorms or I can’t get to work because of heavy traffic and floods?
Typically, as an employee, it is generally accepted that it’s your responsibility to get to work even in extreme weather conditions. However, you can negotiate with your employer to make alternative arrangements where possible, such as with amending your start-time.

Our suggestion for employers:
Employers should encourage employees to look at transport timetables as earlier and frequently as possible. It may also be helpful to ask employees to work from home if feasible. Where appropriate, employers can also transition to more flexible hours to suit staff.

4.Are there any other regulations that protect workers during hot weather?
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to make suitable assessments of the risk to the health and safety of their employees. The temperature of the workplace can be one of many potential hazards that employers should consider when conducting risk assessments.

Our suggestion for employers:
At times of hot weather and uncomfortable working conditions, we recommend employers take a more considerate approach where possible as the risk of a heat stroke or heat exhaustion can become serious concerns and if staff are too hot, they won’t be at their most productive. Additionally, the HSE also recommends employers encourage their workforce to use high-factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 to prevent risk of sunburns.

Impact on Hospitality staff and Construction workers

Given the nature of some hospitality work – hot kitchens, workers on their feet and moving about quickly as well as outdoor work, such as in beer gardens, it’s no surprise that hospitality staff would be among the first to feel the effects of the current weather. Similarly with a large part of the construction workforce operating outside, the hot weather prevents a serious risk to the health and safety of workers carrying out their business.

The Unite Hospitality Union in combination with the HSE have shared advice and rights for workers within these industries.
These include:

  • Asking the employer for a copy of the excess heat risk assessment (if conducted), which should contain information on regular breaks, fresh air and access to water at all times.
  • Negotiating with the employer to reschedule work to cooler times of the day.
  • Removing personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss.
  • If workers feel faint or ill under extreme conditions, they should stop working immediately and head to a cooler space.
  • The union states that there is no law on maximum temperatures at work but that they support the Trade Union Congress’ campaign for a maximum workplace temperature of 27 degrees for strenuous jobs.

    What this means going forward
    Last summer, HSE saw a surge in people seeking advice. Visits to its online hot weather working guidance increased by nearly 1,000% and the number of concerns relating to hot weather reported to HSE almost doubled in July, when temperatures exceeded 40c for the first time. It’s evident from this data in parallel to the guidance from Trade Unions and the Health and Safety Executive alike, that a more considerate approach needs to be implemented by the Employer. Although there is no legal maximum temperature for workplaces, employers must assess risks to the health and safety of their workers by law, including risks from extreme weather such as heat waves. A useful starting point would be to use the HSE’s thermal comfort checklist to help with conducting risk assessments during hot weather.

    By Suraj Purohit.
    Employment Paralegal at Kalra Legal Group


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