Workers are being urged to take simple steps to ensure they stay cool and don’t suffer from heat stress while working during hot weather.
With temperatures set to rise in the UK over the weekend and into next week – and some areas expected to see highs of well above 30C – the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has issued tips for workers on how to keep cool and is also calling on businesses to ensure they support with this.
IOSH says actions workers can take include wearing appropriate, light, and loose-fitting clothing, drinking lots of water, taking regular breaks, and moving to cooler parts of workplaces if possible.
Depending on the type of work, among the measures businesses can take are relaxing formal dress codes and reviewing requirements for other workwear, allowing regular breaks and providing adequate facilities for fresh water, and using blinds and general ventilation to keep temperatures down.
While there are minimum legal temperatures for indoor workers (13C for physical work, 16C for other staff), no guidance or regulations in the UK stipulate a maximum temperature.
Working for prolonged periods of time in hot environments can impair a person’s ability to regulate their own internal temperature. This is known as heat stress. Factors such as work rate, humidity and the clothing worn while working can all contribute to this occurring. This is especially true of workers undertaking manual work and having to wear heavy personal protective equipment (PPE).
Symptoms of heat stress include an impairment to a worker’s cognitive functions, giving rise to safety risks, especially in jobs involving operating machinery.
Other symptoms include muscle cramps, heat rash, severe thirst, possible fainting, heat exhaustion (fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist/clammy skin) and heat stroke. The latter is the most severe disorder and can be very dangerous. Symptoms include hot, dry skin, confusion, convulsions, and eventual loss of consciousness.
Michael Edwards, Health and Safety Advisor at IOSH said: “While there isn’t a maximum temperature for workplaces in the UK, it is crucial people do all they can to stay cool and hydrated in extreme temperatures. Failure to do so can lead to dehydration and heatstroke.
“So, how hot is too hot for indoor workers? In many ways it is down to personal preference, or even individuals’ biological responses. An environment that is too hot for one person may be just right for another. We can also learn a lot from good practices in hotter countries.
“There are many simple steps people can take to ensure they don’t suffer any ill effects. We encourage all workers to follow these, and we urge businesses to do all they can to facilitate this, including adapting and adding control measures, in line with their risk assessments, that can prevent the effects of heat stress in their workers.”
IOSH is also providing advice for businesses on how to prevent outdoor workers from the dangers of over-exposure to the sun, including skin cancer risks. See here for more details.