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Staying cool at work during hot weather

Reading time: 5 mins

Alice Sanderson, July 27, 2018

During the summer we all know how it goes - we Brits don’t expect much in the way of hot weather, so when it does come along we’re rarely prepared for it.  

The biggest issue for many is how to keep temperatures down at work, especially if you work outside, or you have strict dress codes or set uniforms.

So what are your employer’s responsibilities when temperatures soar? And what can you do to keep yourself cool at work?

What is UK law on workplace temperatures?

Whilst there is a minimum temperature ‘guidance’ of 16oC, or 13oC if the job involves physical work, there are no guidelines on the maximum temperature a workplace can be. This is due to the high temperatures typically found in foundries for example. Instead, guidelines say that the temperature must be ‘reasonable’, and the government recommends speaking to your employer if you find your working environment to be unreasonably hot.

There have been proposals in Parliament to ban working if temperatures rise above 30oC, especially in London where temperatures on the tube can reach levels higher than the legal limit at which cattle can be transported. It was voted on in 2015, but was not passed.

However, employers are legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment, and temperature in the workplace is one of the factors measured within this. It requires employers to ensure there are sensible solutions to high temperatures in place, such as air-con in offices. 

What are the laws in other countries?

Are we alone in the UK with no maximum temperature? Or do other countries have similar legislation? The facts may surprise you:

  • EU countries:
    There are no set EU guidelines on workplace temperature. However, a few countries within the EU have some regulations.

    Germany:  German laws state a maximum temperature of 26oC in the workplace unless the outside temperature is higher. They do not specify an upper limit based on the weather however, so this is open to interpretation.

    France: There is no maximum limit in France in terms of temperature, although they specify that staff must be kept ‘safe’ and provided with fresh water to drink.

    Spain: Stricter legislation does exist in Spain, under the Real Decreto 486 (1997) bill, which states that sedentary work should be done at temperatures between 17 and 27oC, whereas light physical work should be between 14 and 25oC. However, there is seemingly a get out clause within this, as the law also states that the workplace location and the specifics of the work itself may be used as reason for the law not to be enforced.

    Republic of Ireland: Whilst there is no maximum temperature for workplaces within the Republic of Ireland, there is a minimum temperature of 17.5oC laid out, and their law also states that enclosed workplaces must be ‘adequately ventilated.’

  • Countries outside the EU:

    The US: Whilst the US offer guidance for employers on how to prevent heat-related illnesses, they don’t offer a clear maximum permitted temperature, despite stating that protecting employees from ‘extreme heat’ is the employer’s responsibility. Instead they ‘recommend’ between 20-24oC.

    Canada: Canada do not lay out any minimum or maximum temperatures at which work must stop or at which you can be exposed to at work. They only state that heat leading to conditions such as heat stroke/exhaustion, or fainting, ‘should be addressed.’

    Australia: Due to the high temperatures reached in Australian summers, you would think that there may be regulations in place. However, there are none, only that employers must make sure to monitor the safety of their staff and recognise heat-related illness symptoms during extremely hot weather

    China: Unlike some of the countries mentioned above, China do regulate on the temperature of working environments. They state that employers must suspend outdoor work if temperatures go above 40oC, and where temperatures are between 37oC and 40oC they must not work outside longer than 6 hours. They also add that they cannot work outside during the three hours of the day when the weather is at its hottest.

    United Arab Emirates (UAE): As you can imagine with desert-based countries, working conditions can get unbearably hot in the UAE, with temperatures around 50oC at some points (and in the UK we complain we’re too hot at half that!). So in 2012 the government introduced a ban on working outdoors between the hottest hours of the day - 12.30-3.30pm. Employers must also ensure that they provide rest areas for the safety of their workers. 

Top tips for staying cool

With vague regulations surrounding heat at work in the UK, it may be the case that the temperature becomes unbearable for you, whether because you have to adhere to strict dress codes or uniforms, or because the air con in your office has broken.

Here are our top ten tips to help you stay cool:

  1. Drink lots of water: staying hydrated helps your body regulate temperature.
  2. Wear clothes made of cotton: fabrics such as polyester or wool will only make you warmer.
  3. Eat smaller meals: larger meals force your body to warm up to process them.
  4. Rinse your wrists under cold water: keeping pulse points cool helps keep your body temperature down.
  5. Keep your feet cool: as with your wrists, but don’t be the reason the office smells like sweaty feet!
  6. Take deep breaths: keeps you oxygenated, and also allows your saliva to cool the air before it enters your lungs.
  7. Buy a hand-held fan: or even a desk fan. But make sure to turn it off when you’re not using it or it loses its effectiveness. 
  8. Don’t fan yourself! This only moves warm air around, and you use more energy, which only makes you warmer.
  9. Wear light colours: as darker colours keep the heat in.
  10. Wet an item of clothing: this may not be possible, but where it is it will help you to stay cool.