Posted on 23rd July 2021 at 17:47
From Our What’sUp? Workshop 21 July 2021
There are no statutory health and safety regulations that state a minimum or maximum temperature in the workplace, but the guidance suggests that 13°C for physical work and 16°C for office work should be appropriate. But nothing for maximum temperature?
Well Health and Safety legislation places the onus on the employer to make sure it is “reasonable” because they’re the ones in the know for the particular circumstances. We can’t always control our environment (and should we? – but there’s another topic for another day!), but it’s generally easier to warm a body up.
Which doesn’t help, given the high temperatures that the UK sustained during July 2021. The mercury was rising, the barometer rising and what could employers actually do to keep tempers from doing the same?
We put this to the WhatsUp Workshop panel to see what actions could be achieved sensibly, without having to close the business down during a heatwave.
Workshops and production floor
This can be a complete nightmare for many workers where they’re in large uninsulated spaces, often with limited windows and frequently heat-generating equipment or processes adding to their woes. Couple that with the need to wear PPE, and it could soon become a health risk.
Create air movement by opening windows, door and loading bay doors to allow natural ventilation. Adding fans to encourage further air movement, and if the airflow can be drawn from a shaded area outside, even better.
Station fans around the shop floor, to disperse the overall air movement, particularly where personnel are working.
If you can screen windows that generate heating from solar gain, but not physically block them, because we want the air still to pass through, then that will make a significant difference too, although you do need to be aware of how the sun tracks during the day.
Air conditioning could be helpful if your areas are segregated into smaller enclosed zones. Unfortunately a large space is much harder (and more expensive) to cool down, although providing occasional “chill zone” points are popular with some employees, but it doesn’t encourage them to work in the locations they need to!
Contamination may need to be a consideration when force-moving air. Some processes or activities, such as handling paints and varnishes, are at risk of dust being brought in from outside or via the air movement.
A little-considered option is the cooling towel. These are in the form of a scarf that you can dampen, and wring out, letting the science to cool you down. Wearing one under PPE may be an option, if it’s safe and can’t be snagged in machinery. Additionally, running cool water over wrists and forearms helps to relieve the feeling of overheating, although this is not a recommended method for electricians working on live cables.
PPE generally limits the amount of skin that is in contact with the environment, which is going to have an effect on how much breeze you’re going to experience, and often it’s ah heavy duty fabric or material. Sure, reducing the layers may help, but, ladies and gents, please don’t forget your manners!
So much easier to deal with, right? Well, it’s just different.
Air movement may cause frustration because that paperwork keeps getting blown on the floor.
Air conditioning can be great, but works best with external ventilation shut off, which means the consideration of where the fresh air is coming, is the recirculated air filtered, and has the system been tested for legionella before using it?
Many open plan offices are segregated into “cubes” which means that air movement through the area bypasses many workstations. Fans will help, but that temptation to bring in electrical equipment from home and have trailing leads are an added headache for the business owner.
Let’s also not forget that offices now have multiple computers and ancillaries running, which are all generating heat and pumping that out to their local environment, which is making things worse again. Now is a good time to consider whether some equipment can be set to standby, turned off or replaced on the grounds that it’s no longer energy efficient.
Offices tend to have lots of windows. Some open, others don’t, but the design is probably to maximise the light coming in, which frequently also maximises the solar gain for many older offices. A good option is to fit blinds and close them early enough to avoid heat build-up.
Clothing in an office is easier to adapt to make employees more comfortable, but again avoiding making it visually uncomfortable to some!
Again, cooling towels might be an option for office-based workers, and you could even consider these for corporate merchandising!
Keep everyone safe
Whatever options you take, the importance is that your employees and you feel as comfortable as possible.
With excess heat, comes a greater risk of heat exhaustion, and beyond that towards heat stroke, which can have severe consequences. Having an action plan could save lives.
And finally, it’s not a bad idea to offer cool drinks to all staff (or ice creams, if you can avoid the squabbling). It shows them you care!