With summer having finally arrived, it’s worth turning our attention to what guidelines, laws and obligations might apply to employees working in the sun and higher temperatures.
Although there are no specific references to minimum or maximum temperatures set out in Jersey health and safety legislation, an employer still has a duty to look after their employees.
But let’s not forget that the primary motivation for making sure that staff are in a comfortable working environment should be that it makes good business sense. Employees who are too hot, or for that matter too cold, will be less effective and more prone to make mistakes which could be costly or lead to accidents.
In general terms, temperatures should be reasonably comfortable to allow people to work efficiently and safely. There is some guidance for low temperatures, which is of limited use, but no recommended maximum temperature for workplaces. Instead, our legislation encourages employers and employees to behave in a sensible and reasonable way and, when things start hotting up, finding ways of managing the risks to the business from heat stress.
So, for instance, outdoors employers could be looking at measures such as working in the shade, planning certain work during the cooler parts of the day, covering up to avoid sunburn and providing a cool rest area for short breaks to recover from the heat. Indoors, that depends on the building – wonderful if you have air-conditioning, but in some places it might be that you can only open windows and rely on fans to move the air, provide a cooler rest area or even agree to start earlier to reduce the time working in high temperatures. Outdoors or indoors, a steady supply of drinking water is essential as employees sweat out the day.
One thing to bear in mind is that people react differently to heat: some love it while others are really bothered. People higher up the ‘hot and bothered scale’ may include older, pregnant and unfit workers. Employers have a duty to take care of every single employee so, where a greater risk is recognised, you may have to tailor a solution to the employee.
When it comes to temperature, employers just need to be pragmatic and sensible. A lack of defined legislation doesn’t diminish responsibility; after all, everyone wants to work safely and efficiently. Hot days like we’ve just had can also provide opportunities to perhaps plan and reflect in teams or groups – preferably whilst tucking into that temptingly cold ice cream.