How hot is too hot in the workplace?

During these summer months, especially given the current exceptionally warm temperatures, workers can find themselves working in hot conditions. So what are employee’s rights in these conditions?

In the UK, generally workplace temperatures should be at least 16°C, or 13°C if rigorous work is involved. However, there is no maximum temperature that a workplace is allowed to be, as it is difficult to give a meaningful maximum figure due to differences in workplaces and conditions. Instead, Health and Safety Regulations place a legal obligation on an employer to ensure that "during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable". What is reasonable is to be determined by the employer and depends on the type of work being done (manual work, office, etc.) and the type of workplace (kitchen, air conditioned office, etc.). 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offers further guidance on workplace temperatures, including carrying out a thermal comfort risk assessment if it is felt necessary. If an employee wishes to complain about temperatures, the guidance is that, if a significant number of employees are complaining about thermal discomfort, your employer should carry out a risk assessment, and act on the results of that assessment. But this does not necessarily mean you should be allowed to go home.

Practical pointers

  • While employers are not legally obliged to provide air conditioning in workplaces, they are expected to provide reasonable temperatures and should consider using fans or air conditioning if available in high temperatures.
  • It is also important to drink plenty of water and employers must provide you with suitable drinking water in the workplace.
  • Many work places have dress codes for obvious reasons, including health and safety. In high temperatures employers should consider modifying or relaxing the dress code, but this is not a requirement if to do so is not appropriate or possible, for example in terms of personal protective equipment or in maintaining professionalism.
  • Frequent rest breaks should be permitted.

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