Can you legally take time off because of hot weather?
Having recently enjoyed the warmest May bank holiday weekend on record, people have begun to wonder about the rest of the year. Will this be a record-breaking summer, or have we had the best sunshine already?
And when enjoying a day off, warm weather is particularly welcome. But what happens when we return to work? And there is one question that comes up every year – is there a law that says it is too hot to work?
Is there a maximum temperature in the workplace?
Given the number of regulations that govern the workplace, it comes as something of a surprise to learn that there are no rules about maximum or minimum temperature. The HSE does provide some guidelines about the lowest acceptable temperatures though – usually 16ºC, or 13ºC for physically rigorous jobs.
The closest we get to a legal standard can be found in The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which states:
‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’
The reality is that setting legally-enforced maximum and minimum temperatures would mean that some key industries would be unable to operate for significant periods of the year – or at all. Housebuilding and construction would have to be suspended over the winter months for instance. And the steel industry would have to shut down entirely as temperatures in mills regularly top 40ºC.
40ºC may be deeply uncomfortable when working in an office, but it is a fact of life for many people working in factories. Employers do still have a duty to ensure appropriate controls are in place to protect workers.
Using the legal framework definition above, 40ºC could be considered unreasonable for an office.
Water and cooling
Two MPs, Ian Mearns (Labour) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) have tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons to debate workplace conditions in the summer. The proposal states:
“That this House notes that workers in the UK lack adequate legal safeguards from working in uncomfortably high temperatures, owing to the lack of a statutory maximum temperature at which employers would have to introduce control measures, such as breaks, access to water or air conditioning.”
The EDM suggests that these measures should be introduced as soon as workplace temperatures top 30ºC, or 27ºC for anyone doing strenuous physical labour. Unfortunately, EDM debates tend to be poorly attended, and any proposals may take years to become government policy – especially when the motion is tabled by opposition MPs.
No, you can’t have the day off
So no matter how hot this summer turns out to be, there is no legal reason for not turning up to work. If you are finding work in the heat particularly difficult or uncomfortable, you should ask your manager to conduct a health and safety assessment to ensure that risks are being managed properly.
To learn more about how to make your workplace safer and more comfortable, please get in touch.