While it’s nice to see the sun (albeit usually a short lived appearance in the UK), it’s important that employers remember the key risks of working in hot environments. Heat stress, dehydration, UV exposure, visual impairment as a result of glare and sunburn can all create difficulties.

There is no legal maximum workplace temperature for indoor workplaces. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state, "during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable". This is usually at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work (unless other laws such as food hygiene regulations require lower temperatures.

The HSE offers the following advice to employers:

- placing insulating materials around hot plant and pipes;

- providing air-cooling or air conditioning equipment;

- providing fans, eg desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans;

- ensuring that windows can be opened;

- shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds or by using reflective film on windows to reduce the heating effects of the sun;

- siting workstations away from direct sunlight or other situations or objects that that radiate heat (eg plant, machinery);

- providing additional facilities, eg cold water dispensers (water is preferable to caffeine or carbonated drinks). Introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, eg flexible working patterns, job rotation, workstation rotation etc;

- allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or cool down.

It also advises employers who receive numerous complaints from employees to carry out a thermal comfort risk assessment. Simple solutions to the problem may include:

- closing windows in air conditioned offices;

- pulling down blinds to prevent solar radiant heat etc;

- providing employees with sufficient control to adapt the environment by adding or removing layers of clothing;

- visually inspecting the workplace to identify hazards that may impact on employee thermal comfort;

- looking for patterns in the absenteeism rates, types of illnesses and their frequency of occurrence, the nature of employee complaints etc. Take particular note of where the employee may work, his job, how experienced he is, whether any illnesses are recurring etc.

- relaxing a formal dress code – but you must ensure that personal protective equipment is provided and used if required.

It’s useful to have a dress code, but remember that dress codes (and any agreed relaxation of these as a result of the hot weather) do need to be non-discriminatory.

A male employee at Jobcentre Plus in Dorset, Raymond Akers, thought it was discriminatory that his employer required male employees to wear a shirt with a collar and tie, when there were no restrictions on the choice of clothing for female employees. Akers claimed he rarely dealt with the public. He started wearing flamboyant clothes (Hawaiian shirts and clashing ties). After receiving numerous warnings that his clothes were inappropriate, he resigned and claimed constructive dismissal.

His claim was unsuccessful and he was ordered to pay £3000 costs. However, it’s worth noting that the problem would have been avoided if the same standards of dress code are applied to male and female employees.

In the case of outdoor work, the HSE says that exposure to the sun can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering and skin ageing, and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Remind employees to reduce unnecessary exposure by wearing long-sleeve shirts or loose clothing with a close weave and wearing hats with a wide brim. Breaks should be taken in the shade whenever possible.

Article supplied by Kate Russel, Russel Personnel. www.russel-personnel.co.uk