You are currently viewing I am a lawyer specializing in labor law – Your rights to stop working during the heat wave explained

I am a lawyer specializing in labor law – Your rights to stop working during the heat wave explained

TEMPERATURES across the UK are soaring, leaving many unsure of their rights when it is unbearably hot at work.

With the heat wave set to last a few more weeks, workers have the right to know whether they have to work in unbearable conditions.


Employers have a duty of care when workplace temperatures become extreme.Credit: Alamy

However, many might be disappointed to learn that there is little legal protection when it comes to working in high temperatures.

Although that doesn’t mean employers don’t have a duty of care when it starts to get unbearable.

Jo Mackie, employment rights manager at Slater & Gordon, said: ‘There is actually no upper temperature limit, only a lower one.

That’s right, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Workplace Regulations 1992.

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Mackie said: “Your employer has a duty to keep you safe in the workplace, and that extends to keeping the temperature reasonable.”

So in such cases, your employer may make compromises to help you feel more comfortable.

Mackie recommends that if you can, ask to work from home — especially if your employer can’t maintain a reasonable temperature if there’s no air conditioning in the building.

If you work outdoors, you are less likely to have the above flexibility.

Mackie said: “You will need to be very careful and come prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen to minimize the risk of sunburn as well as dehydration.

“You may need to wear a uniform, depending on their function. For example, if it is for protection, a reasonable employer will liaise with staff to ensure that whatever can be done is done. to ensure the comfort and safety of employees at work.”

There are practical steps you can take, such as keeping water in the fridge and drinking frequently, half-filling hot water bottles with cold water and placing them in the freezer to cool if needed and block the sun with shades or blinds.

The HSE recommends that if you are uncomfortable, speak to your manager, supervisor, union representative or employee representative about:

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  • Make sure windows are open, fans are provided to promote local cooling, and heaters can be turned off or air conditioning units are serviced.
  • Introduce work systems to limit exposure, such as flexible hours or early/late departures to help avoid the worst effects of working at high temperatures.
  • Relaxing formal dress codes.

Although there are calls to introduce a new law to set a maximum temperature at work but this has not been practical before as some jobs involve high temperature work such as blast furnaces, steel production and of glass.

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