The UK heatwave is continuing and with the thermometer climbing to over 40 degrees in some locations many of us are stuck at work without air conditioning. This week the Met Office has issued its first ever red warning for heat and working in a stiflingly hot office could pose a real health problem for some. Workers have been calling to be given the day off as office temperatures soar, as the commute in is also problematic with many trains and buses not offering air conditioning, and the heat is also causing delays. The calls for an emergency bank holiday haven’t been answered, so exactly how hot does it need to get before you can say farewell to your boss and colleagues with a clear conscience?
Sadly, there is no official maximum temperature limit laid out for the workplace, which can make things tricky. Previous efforts by the Trades Union Congress in 2006 were unsuccessful, when the TUC stated a maximum temperature should be set at 30C. That limit dropped to 27C for strenuous and physical work, and in addition to this they advised that employers should aim to keep the temperature below 24C.
Despite the TUCs wishes being declined, your employer still has a legal obligation to make sure the temperature of your workplace is “reasonable”, according to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Oddly, the government has set out a recommended minimum temperature, at 16C for workers and 13C for those carrying out manual work.
TikTok user @shellyasquith has shared a video giving advice if you’re worried about melting at work. She advises viewers that: “Every employee has the right to remove themselves from work if they believe themselves to be in danger.” It falls under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act, which she explains “protects you from being disciplined, sacked or having your pay cut for removing yourself from the workplace because of what you see as a serious or imminent threat to your health and safety.”
The Act states: “In circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent and which he could not reasonably have been expected to avert, he left (or proposed to leave) or (while the danger persisted) refused to return to his place of work or any dangerous part of his place of work.”
“In circumstances of danger which the employee reasonably believed to be serious and imminent, he took (or proposed to take) appropriate steps to protect himself or other persons from the danger.” Shelly advised it has been used in previous heatwaves and during the Covid pandemic, however, she did also urge caution and to get advice from your union first before making any decisions.
Government advice also recommends you should speak to your boss if the temperature is proving to be uncomfortable. Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), says employers should carry out a risk assessment, to determine if the workplace is a safe environment.
The assessment must examine air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity, humidity, what clothing employees wear and the average rate at which they work. A thermal comfort checklist has also been created by the HSE for employees to fill out. Employers are advised that if someone ticks two or more of the "yes" options on the checklist, it is a sign that they could be at risk of thermal discomfort.
Ultimately, the decision lies with your boss, however Section 44 is there as back-up to protect workers who genuinely feel they are in danger.Featured Image Credit: Alamy/TikTok