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Managing the risks for your workforce in hot weather

Updated: Oct 19, 2023


Many await the summer period in eager anticipation, hoping for long sunny days and more time to make memories.


But for businesses this can bring challenges. Employees have differing opinions on what ‘comfortable’ or ‘reasonable’ is, and employers are responsible for ensuring any risk from being exposed to inclement weather is managed.


It may be more obvious for a company employing a team to work on a roof or outside all day, but it also requires consideration for the rest of the workforce too. So what do we do?


For this, I’ll focus on a team working outside on a roof.

You need to ensure that if you do have teams working outside at any point, you have included the hazards associated with working exposed to the elements. For hot weather, this can be heat stress, heat stroke, sun burn and dehydration. Adding to that, if working on a surface which is reflective, the heat ‘bounced back’ from the roof can often be at higher temperatures than the sun temperature itself.


There are many simple means of mitigating the risks and we must, as we are required to, consider the hierarchy of control.


Can we eliminate?

- This could simply be not doing the work. Depending on how long the weather is deemed to last. It may sound drastic but some larger companies have policies in place that do not allow any works in certain circumstances over a certain temperature. Even though legally there is no defined upper limit temperature for most general working conditions, we are still required to take a risk based approach.


Substitution / engineering controls?

We may have a tough time here substituting, but can we use engineering controls?

- Shades and shields that can be used for protection from the sun to prevent exacerbated conditions.

- We can put in place rules regarding workwear covering arms, legs, neck and head.

- Providing sun cream to workers that work outdoors, even on a normal day to day basis.


Isolation

- Working in the elements at the hottest times of the day, changing the working pattern to earlier or later times.

- Providing drinking water breaks more frequently


Administrative controls

- Changing the working pattern to earlier or later times, so as to reduce the exposure levels


PPE

- Some actually consider suncream as a PPE item.

- Ensuring PPE is suitable for the temperature and conditions, and looking to see if there are any items that provide additional protection, such as sunshades that fit to hard hats.


Training

Briefing your employees on the hazards will help them to understand the risks they could be exposed to in addition to being able to spot the signs of heat stress or heat stroke in their colleagues, providing early warning and assistance where required.


One of the most common questions we get is “Do I really need to provide suncream?!”


Are you exposing your employees to something that is affecting their health, safety or welfare, through the course of their work?

- Yes


Therefore you have a duty to control it.

There are many ways to do this, and the controls you choose should be the most suitable and best you can afford.


If there are other controls in place that are higher up the hierarchy, then you may not have to.

Generally though, many businesses are providing it to strengthen their control measures.


As for other environments, such as warm areas of factories & offices, the most common question we get asked is “Have I got to provide fans and/or air con!”


Bear in mind that when we look to what control measures we may need, we usually do so ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’, meaning we are permitted to take into account ‘RICE’ Versus the risk:


Resource

Inconvenience

Cost

Effort


The greater your risk, the more likely you will be expected to firmly consider the actions you can take to reduce that risk.


We ask the same question again:


Are you exposing your employees to something that is affecting their health, safety or welfare, through the course of their work?

- Possibly. There is an argument here that welfare is affected, however the guidelines around what is acceptable is down to personal interpretation. It is ‘reasonable’? and of course, everyone’s idea of what is ‘reasonable’ is different. Take an office in May and ask all of them whether the heating or air con should be on and you will see a divide!


If you were likely to experience high temperatures very frequently and a number of people found the environment uncomfortable and distracting, then you would likely be expected to put measures in place to reduce this.

Yes, this could be providing fans, opening windows, allowing flexible working hours, providing cold drinks and ice lollies even!


However, when we have an instance which is unusual or infrequent, we could argue that the time, effort and inconvenience and resource aren’t a justifiable expenditure for little gain or for gain for such a short period, especially if it is unlikely to recur or frequently occur.


The most important thing for me in situations like this is not just to jump on the ‘well there’s no legal limit for temperature in an office, we don’t have to do anything!’ approach.


Listen to your employees, talk to them, explain your reasonings. Hopefully if you have a good culture they would feel happy raising issues with you anyway, but simply consulting can go a long way and can help you to decide what controls to put in place.


Written by: Hayley Tollevey

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