Heatwave: When is it too hot to work? UK rules explained

·3-min read

Parts of the United Kingdom are set to sizzle this week in a heatwave that’s set to bring scorching temperatures of up to the high-30s.

According to Met Office data, London is forecast to bake in highs of up to 36C on Monday, July 18, and 38C on Tuesday, July 19, with a 50% chance of temperatures exceeding 40 degrees.

The hot temperatures have seen people flocking to beaches, parks and gardens over the last weekend to make the most of the spike in temperatures.

But the Met Office has issued a Red warning for extreme heat for the first time ever, warning of a “potentially very serious situation” in parts of England.

While the hot weather offers lots of opportunities for fun in the sun, it can also pose some challenges for those who are trying to work out how to cope with the hot temperatures, and also continue being productive at work.

As well as making sure you’ve got a fan to hand, as well as a well-stocked offering of cold drinks, here are your rights when working in the heat.

Watch: How to cope with extreme heatwave temperatures

What is the legal maximum working temperature?

UK Weather: Summer Heatwave 2022

There’s a recommended minimum temperature for a workplace, although it isn’t set in law - 16ºC, or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work - however, things are less clear when it comes to a maximum temperature.

There is no official legal maximum working temperature, however, the government states that during working hours, the temperature of all indoor working spaces must be reasonable.

Employers must also stick to health and safety at work, including:

  • keeping the temperature at a comfortable level

  • providing clean and fresh air

What should employers do if it’s too hot inside the office?

Trade Unions have campaigned for a legal maximum temperature for indoor work, of 27C - 30C so that employers and workers know when action should be taken.

The Union of Shop, Disruptive and Allied Workers (USDAW) has called for the government to make it a legal requirement for employers to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24C.

Cooling measures could include things like air conditioning, opening windows, and turning on fans. However, if none of these options is available, the office may be an unsuitable place for working.

The general secretary of the USDAW said: “Indoor workers need cool drinks, more frequent breaks, relaxed dress code, along with opportunities to remove and replace face coverings.”

The TUC workers’ union said: “An employer must provide a working environment which is, as far as is reasonably practical, safe and without risks to health. In addition, employers have to assess risks and introduce any necessary prevention or control measures.”

Can you stop working if it gets too hot and can you work from home?

If you are not able to work from home, or you are unable to change your working conditions in order to account for unusually high temperatures, it is possible you may have to stop working in order to protect your health.

An employee is allowed to stop working if they believe that their working environment is damaging their health. If they are then penalised for that, they are liable to make a claim at an employment tribunal.

What are the recommendations for those working outside?

Doing physical labour outside while there are very high temperatures could put the body under considerable strain.

The USDAW says that workers labouring outside should be provided with sun and heat protection, as well as shade if possible.

They should also have access to suncream; suitable clothing; and water to remain hydrated.