With Great Heat Comes Great Responsibility

As the country enjoys blue skies, unbroken sunshine and near-record temperatures, it seems a lot of the hard-working people of Ireland are wondering what temperature the mercury must hit for it to be legally too hot to work?! Employers will likewise be curious to know how the extraordinarily hot temperatures impact on their legal duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their employees at work. 

Health and Safety Authority guidance

The Health and Safety Authority have responded to the high number of temperature-related queries by issuing a statement advising that there is ‘no maximum allowable temperature’ under health and safety legislation and that both employers and employees should exercise ‘common sense’ in all workplace safety matters.

What the legislation says

Health and safety legislation provides that the temperature in the workplace must be appropriate for the work activity taking place.

In determining what is appropriate, employers should consider the following: –

  • the effects of wearing a uniform or protective clothing required for certain roles
  • whether the work is sedentary
  • whether there are radiant heat sources or humidity factors.

The maximum temperature question

There is no maximum temperature specified in health and safety legislation. It does not follow that working at all temperatures will be deemed acceptable. Common sense must prevail.

Office work guidelines

The minimum temperature in an office should be no less than 17.5°C after the first hour of work. Most office workers find the recommended temperature too cold and find 20-23°C more acceptable. Excessive heat from the persistent sun should be prevented by external blinds, low emission glass or other appropriate equipment. A thermometer should be to hand to allow temperatures to be monitored.

High-temperature work

Workplaces with operations that expose employees to very high or uncomfortable temperatures may require cooling systems depending on individual circumstances.

Hot tips

By following the guidelines below, employers can exercise a common sense approach to dealing with any heatwave-related issues: –

  • ensure good management/staff relations through clear communication and agreement with employees on appropriate measures to be taken
  • monitor air conditioning, keep windows open, provide fans and generally allow a supply of fresh air to circulate around the workplace
  • ensure there is an adequate supply of cold water available
  • provide appropriate rest breaks, and job rotation if necessary
  • ensure outdoor workers are aware of the risks of working in direct sun, and that they wear the correct Personal Protective Equipment and apply sunscreen as necessary
  • in office environments, consider relaxing the dress code for employees’ comfort
  • ensure outdoor workers do not use high temperatures as justification for removing required safety equipment such as hard hats and steel toe capped boots.

To find out how to safeguard your business against claims under health and safety legislation call Peninsula’s 24-hour advice line on 1890 252 923.