Landau Law supporting change in law by Chef’s Union
Landau Law is pleased to be supporting Unichef (The National Chef’s Union) in endeavoring to bring about a change in the law to allow a maximum safe working temperature in enclosed workplace environments. This includes kitchens and bakeries.
Please see my blog below on this.
The call for a maximum temperature in the workplace
The temperature of your workplace can be an important health and safety issue. The legal requirements for workplace temperatures is governed by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
Indoor workplaces should be a minimum of 16°C, or 13°C if your work is physically demanding.
There is currently no maximum temperature in the legislation, although the regulations do provide that workplace temperatures should be “reasonable”. There should be enough thermometers around the workplace so that you can check the temperature.
In the absence of a legal maximum, it is largely up to the Health and Safety Executive to enforce the requirement for “reasonable” temperatures. While various organisations provide recommendations as to reasonable temperatures (see below), the lack of upper limit leaves employers with a fairly wide discretion.
The Health and Safety Executive does provide a guidance only on when a “thermal comfort risk assessment” should be made by an employer, namely:
In air-conditioned offices – where more than 10% of employees are complaining of it being too hot;
In naturally ventilated offices – where more than 15% of employees are complaining; and
In retail businesses, warehouses, factories and all other indoor environments that may not have air conditioning – where more than 20% of employees are complaining.
The TUC recommends that workplaces such as offices should be no higher than 30°C, and 27°C where employees are doing strenuous physical work. As yet, however, the TUC and other campaigners’ recommendations have not been passed into law.
What are the risks if the workplace is too hot?
There are various health risks to employees working in very hot environments. These are collectively termed ‘heat stress’ and include:
-An inability to concentrate
-Heat exhaustion (nausea, headache, light-headedness)
-Heat stroke (severe cases of which can result in loss of consciousness and death).
There is also evidence that workplace accidents, such as slips and trips, may increase in hot conditions as a result of fatigue and poor concentration, and that stress levels and incidences of violence rise in hot conditions.
These risks are obviously higher for those working in roles which require physical exertion, or heavy protective clothing which may trap heat. It would also affect those who work in naturally high temperature environments, such as chefs.
In addition to health risks, studies have shown that productivity drops significantly when office temperatures reach a certain level.
Furthermore, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA), there are a variety of work processes with the potential to put menopausal women who suffer hot flushes at increased risk from heatstress. These include, but are not restricted to, work in foundries, brick-firing, ceramic plants, glass making facilities, and commercial kitchens. The degree of risk is increased in particularly for those whose job tasks require them to wear heavy or occlusive personal protective equipment including the military and fire and rescue personnel. The effects are exacerbated during hot weather.
To assist employers in supporting women who are experiencing the menopause, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) published in 2016 guidance regarding the effects of menopause in the workplace.Its guidance confirms that 20% to 25% of women will have hot flushes during menopause, adversely affecting their quality of personal and working lives.
Employers should therefore be taking the impact of menopause seriously. In order to meet their legal obligations, this needs to include risk appropriate risk assessments together with the effects of the menopause on middle-aged workers, in the same way as they would consider the effects of pregnancy on their younger colleagues.
What can employees to on a practical level if the workplace is too hot?
It is recommended that employees talk to their manager, union representative or employee representative about possibly taking the following steps to ensure the workplace is a reasonable temperature:
-Providing or upgrading air conditioning or air-cooling systems;
-Moving workstations away from hot machinery or out of direct sunlight;
-Introduce flexible hours or early/late starts to help avoid the worst effects of working in high temperatures;
-Relaxing formal dress codes;
-Insulating hot plant or pipes;
-Include assessments of thermal risk as part of workplace risk assessments.
The HSE recommends that if it is not possible to achieve a reasonable temperature throughout the office, local cooling systems should be provided (such as desk-side fans).
If an employer fails to address the problem, then an employee could write directly to their local environment officer or the Health and Safety Executive. Such an approach is likely to be more effective if a joint complaint is made with other colleagues.
Many cases involving heat stress injuries have been reported in relation to army personnel, but there is no reason why the same principles cannot be applied to other industry sectors. In relation to the army cases, there have been cases involving three SAS candidates that died from heat exhaustion during a training session in the Brecon Beacons during one of the hottest days of the year in 2013. The Army reservists were in the middle of a 16.4 mile timed hike on Pen y Fan, Brecon Beacons, Wales, in soaring 29.5C temperatures when they collapsed.
Following an investigation of the Ministry of Defence by the HSE, it was found that there had been a failure to plan, assess, and manage risks associated with climatic illness during the training. The exercise, they said, should have been called off hours before when temperatures reached record highs. At the Coroner’s inquest it was held that all three soldiers would have survived if the MoD regulations on heat illness had been followed.
An investigation into these types of injuries was conducted by the Defence Select Committee and they warned that:
‘The vast majority of injuries suffered by military personnel do not occur in battle … They should properly be seen as accidents at work and the basic principles for avoiding injury are the same as those that apply to any employer who is using potentially dangerous equipment’.
Sadly, another soldier died on a training mission in March of 2016, just after finishing an eight-mile hike carrying a rifle and 25kg of kit, almost 4st. It was thought this was related to high temperatures and dehydration.
Although there was an investigation carried out by the HSE into the failings of the MoD, it was not possible to prosecute as the Ministry is a government body. Therefore, the highest sanction they were able to give was a Crown Censure. Whilst there is no financial penalty associated with Crown Censures, they are an official recording of a failing to meet the standards set out in law.
This does show, however, the importance of employers following the relevant guidance for working in heat and the risks posed if there is failure to do so.
Working in a hot environments clearly poses a risk of injury, specifically, but not including those working outdoors, in construction, agriculture and the army and those working indoors in kitchens and bakeries. It is possible for initial heat exhaustion to develop into more severe heat stroke if left untreated and to cause a wider adverse heath detriment.
It is regrettable that there remains no legal limit on high temperatures in the workplace, whilst there has always been a lower limit. All we have is a general obligation on employers to conduct risk assessments in workplaces to ensure that temperatures are ‘reasonable’. Clearly, working in high temperatures is unavoidable in some occupations, but with a top limiting temperature enshrined in law, the unnecessary fallout from heat stress can be significantly reduced. This will also provide a much needed equilibrium to the lower limit of allowed temperature in the workplace of 16 degrees.