Susan Bicknell gets legal guidance this week from Sarah Bird, employment law expert at Browne Jacobson and Guy Guinan, a Partner with the employment team of Halliwells LLP on managing workers in the soaring heat.
What are the rules on higher temperatures in the workplace and less fair treatment of workshop staff than office staff regarding this?
A friend has asked me if it is fair or indeed lawful to supply air-conditioning and water coolers to office staff whilst the workshop staff employed by the same company in another part of the same building swelter in overalls and safety gear and have only tap water to drink and a fan or two(plus a hot drinks machine.)
Over the last few days the heat in the workshop has been unbearable and when one worker said they would have to go home as they were feeling so unwell they were threatened with a disciplinary. In parts of the workshop welding and sheet metal work are carried out, the equipment used thus adding to the already high natural heat from the weather.
Surely all employees should be given the same facilities? There is also possibly a higher risk of accidents with employees using welding and other tools in a state of heat exhaustion? Wielding a mouse cannot really be compared with the effort required to use engineering and other tools!
Advice on this would be much appreciated.
Sarah Bird, employment law expert, Browne Jacobson
An employer has a duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all its employees as far as is reasonably practicable.
In particular, the temperature must be reasonable during working hours in all areas in which employees are required to work.
There is a minimum temperature for the workplace, which should be at least 16 degrees Celsius or 13 degrees Celsius where the work involves severe physical effort. However, a maximum temperature is not prescribed.
The employer should make specific arrangements if necessary during periods of excessive hot weather such as providing additional fans, obtaining water coolers, increasing the frequency of rest breaks or changing start and finish times. However the employer cannot be expected to completely counteract the effects of extreme weather conditions and can only take such steps that are reasonably practicable.
The employer is not required to provide all employees with air conditioning and water coolers. Although, all areas of the workplace should have sufficient ventilation and drinking water should be adequate and readily accessible to all employees.
An employee who is concerned about health and safety issues should speak to their supervisor and if this does not resolve matters consider bringing a grievance under the employer’s grievance procedure.
Sarah can be contacted at: [email protected]
Guy Guinan is a partner in the employment team at national law firm, Halliwells LLP
The Health and Safety laws require that employers ensure that the temperature in the workplace is “reasonable”. What is reasonable will depend on the job and the circumstances.
Where the temperature in a workroom is uncomfortably high, for example because of hot processes or the design of the building, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature. There are no specific requirements but the Health and Safety Executive suggest that it may be reasonable to insulate hot plants or pipes; provide air-cooling plant; shade windows or move workstations away from radiant heat. It would also appear to be reasonable in extremely hot weather for fans and increased ventilation to be used.
If no steps are taken to ensure that there is a reasonable temperature the Health and Safety Executive may be contacted and an inspection carried out. The employer may be ordered to comply with health and safety provisions in the future or face prosecution.
If an employee raises a health and safety issue by reasonable means with his employer he is given specific protection against dismissal or disciplinary action. In any event the employee may be able to claim compensation if injured due to the workplace conditions.
There is also the risk that the employee will resign and claim constructive dismissal due to the employer’s failure to provide a safe work environment. This would amount to a fundamental breach of contract.
Guy can be contacted at: [email protected]
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