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Extreme heat occurrences are becoming more and more frequent in the UK, largely due to climate change and rising emissions from human activities. The top 10 warmest years for the UK since 1884 have all occurred in the past twenty years, and researchers are now saying there’s a 66% chance the world will pass the 1.5C global warming threshold in the next four years.

With ever-warmer weather on the way, we need to be mindful of how we take care of employees during the increasing heatwaves we’re now facing.

Extreme heat can cause people to experience ‘heat stress‘ which happens when the body’s way of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. Heat stress can cause a rise in body temperature, forcing the body to produce sweat to try to cool itself down. This can be uncomfortable, even dangerous for some people, and office employees can often be more susceptible due to the tightly controlled office space, warm computer equipment and the traditional office attire such as button-down shirts, work trousers and jackets. It’s vital that employers understand how and why they must create a cool, comfortable working environment to ensure that everyone gets through the heat wave together.

Be reasonable

While there are no concrete UK government rules regarding set air conditioning temperatures, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 simply recommends employers leave their offices at a “reasonable” temperature.

So, whilst office building temperatures have no set legal rule, it’s up to the employer to ensure that all employees are comfortable. This can be achieved by taking an office vote on what temperature the air conditioning should be set to or making small desktop fans available so that everyone can choose how they’d prefer to remain cool.

Take if off

Though each office has a different dress code or dress expectation, it can be beneficial to implement a more relaxed approach to office clothing (within reason) when employees are working through a heatwave. For example, instead of requiring full length trousers, employers could consider allowing employees to wear shorts. Like the lack of law regarding mandatory office temperatures, there’s no concrete law dictating what employers can and can’t enforce employees to wear during heatwaves. But it’s important that employers keep in mind that they should prioritize their employees’ comfort to prevent a possible health a safety concern, such as heat related illness.

Cool heads prevail

So, while the laws that dictate an office temperature or dress code are not set in stone, it’s still critical that employers take heat wave precautions seriously. Heat stress and heat exhaustion do not discriminate amongst age or gender so it’s important that offices create environments where everyone can feel safe and comfortable.

Planning ahead of time for heatwaves, which are expected to become longer and more frequent, can reduce their impact. Keeping offices at an appropriate temperature and loosening possible dress code rules during the hottest days are great steps in preventing heat stress and heat exhaustion amongst employees.

Michael Jenkins, Head of Legal Advice, Arc Legal Group

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