When you think of England, you don’t often think of sweltering summer sun. Most people picture drizzly rain in the green, sheep-laden countryside, but, even though the weather is ever-changing, temperatures have been rising recently, especially in summer. When your employees work outside in the sun provisions must be made to keep everyone safe. What are the policies employers must address? Is there a maximum outdoor working temperature? What do employers have to provide to keep everyone cool and are there any special circumstances that apply only to summer and working outside in the sun?
The English summer is routinely quite moderate - when compared to the rest of the world - between 18℃ and 20℃ (65-70℉), but when working outside, those temperatures can seem overbearingly hot. England, however, has been known to reach temperatures exceeding 30℃ to 38℃ (87-101℉) in recent years, so it is important to understand how heat can affect worker’s health both long and short term.
The 3 policies employers must address are...
- Workplace Temperature,
- PPE and Thermal Comfort,
- Protecting Employees from Harm.
1. Workplace Temperature
The law stipulates a minimum workplace temperature but not a maximum one; however, employers have to consider what is reasonable, safe, and comfortable via a risk assessment. The HSE note that workrooms should be around 16°C or 13°C if the work involved rigorous effort with a maximum of 30°C. They say a maximum temperature cannot be given because high temperatures are found in glass works and foundries, and it’s possible to work safely with appropriate controls.
When doing a workplace temperature assessment, especially when working outdoors on hot days, employers must consider:
- Air Temperature
- Radiant Temperature
- Air Velocity
The Trade Unions Congress (TUC) is trying to change the laws for maximum indoor temperature of 30°C and 27°C for strenuous work, and that when it reaches 24°C employers should add a cooling system. There’s no indication if this rule would be applied also to outdoor working temperatures.
Always make sure the temperature is reasonable and safe. Consider heat stress and dehydration in your factors. If many workers are complaining or reporting illness from thermal discomfort, review the situation and implement appropriate controls.
2. PPE and Thermal Comfort
Personal protective equipment is designed to be a last resort in protecting employees from harm. The HSE notes that when workers are wearing PPE, their body cannot evaporate sweat as effectively, which can lead to overheating. PPE can also be heavy and uncomfortable. Wearing PPE in the heat can increase the risk of heat stress.
It’s vital that employers wear PPE, but in breaks, it’s advised that workers remove PPE to allow it to dry and replace it with clean PPE, allowing heat to escape and cooling the worker. PPE can prevent environmental adaptation. However, it’s best to wear PPE for protection and it’s just advisable to work more slowly and take frequent breaks.
3. Protecting Employees from Harm
Employees should be encouraged to take measures to protect themselves such as
- Wearing the correct PPE in a manner that will keep them safe
- Wearing sunscreen
- Taking regular breaks in a shady spot
- Drinking plenty of water
Employers can protect workers by following HSE guidelines for hot temperatures…
- Rescheduling work for cooler times of day. The
- Providing rest breaks and introducing shaded rest areas.
- Provide free access to cool drinking water. Employers are legally
- Encourage workers to remove their PPE when resting.
- Educate workers on recognising heat stress symptoms.
Employers and workers need to understand the risks of working in the sun:
- Too much sunlight is harmful to the skin and can cause sunburn, blistering, and ageing.
- Over time, exposure can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.
- Cancer Research, UK, notes that over
- Remember that a tan is a sign of skin damage caused by UV rays in sunlight - and those rays are still damaging on a cloudy day.
- Those who work in the sun are also at risk for diminished energy levels, heat stroke, heat rash, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion.
Who is at risk?
- Anyone who works outdoors and is exposed to unhealthy sun levels is at risk.
- Those who are fair or freckled are at higher risk, especially if you burn more easily before tanning.
- Those with red or fair hair and light eyes are more at risk.
- Those with more moles are at higher risk.
Working in the sun can be uncomfortable for employees, and it can put them at risk so for very hot English days, it’s best to conduct a risk assessment in order to find out how to protect your workers from harm. Make sure to address these three policies every time the temperatures soar.
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