GMB union calls for legal limit on workplace temperatures as UK experiences heatwave

Published by Scott Challinor on July 18th 2022, 10:00am

As the UK experiences soaring summer temperatures this week, the GMB union has called on government to introduce a legal limit on maximum workplace temperatures.

The Met Office has issued a red heat warning for Monday and Tuesday with record temperatures of 41°C having been predicted in England.

This has resulted in those intending to travel by rail on Monday and Tuesday being told only to make their journeys if absolutely necessary, with delays, cancellations and late changes to services all likely.

Travellers have also been advised to carry water and not to travel if they do not feel well.

In the wake of this, GMB has now suggested that people should not be expected to work in temperatures that exceed 25°C.

Lynsey Mann, the GMB's health and safety officer, said: "This hot weather is great for being on a sun lounger, but if you're trying to work through it's no joke.

"Bosses need to do everything possible to keep workplaces cool and, more importantly, safe.

“Ultimately, there needs to be a legal maximum working temperature."

GMB has also called on employers to relax dress codes during hot spells and provide more breaks and greater supplies of water for workers.

There is currently no UK law around maximum or minimum workplace temperatures, although the Health and Safety Executive [HSE] has advised that workplaces should be at around 16°C or 13°C.

However, the HSE has acknowledged that every workplace is unique and therefore setting a standard, one size fits all maximum or minimum temperature is not a simple process.

The HSE says, therefore, that it is at the discretion of employers as to whether a workplace is safe or unsafe due to temperature.

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “There is no maximum workplace temperature because every workplace is different.

“Responsibility to make workplaces safe and healthy lies with employers. Workplace temperature is a hazard that comes with legal obligations for employers like other hazards.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress [TUC], has separately said that office staff could be permitted to work from home during heatwaves, or adjust their working hours to avoid travelling during rush-hour when public transport vehicles are likely to be at their hottest.

The Unite union has also called on employers to “consider rescheduling work to cooler times of the day” during heatwaves, and “provide cooling areas such as shade or air-conditioned rest rooms.”

Unite added: “If workers show any signs of heat exhaustion, the employer should immediately ensure they stop work and are allowed to recover, without loss of pay.”

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
July 18th 2022, 10:00am

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