Hotter summers will make UK workplaces increasingly uncomfortable and potentially hazardous, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned today (Wednesday 6 May 2009) as it calls for the introduction of a new upper limit on workplace temperature.
The TUC says that although employees are not expected to work when the temperature drops below 19 degrees C (or 13 degrees C if they are do physically demanding work), there are no similar restrictions for when the workplace becomes too hot.
With a long, hot summer forecast for this year, the TUC says employers should be forced to act when the temperature inside hits 24 degree C, and that staff could be sent home and their employers prosecuted if it soared to 30 degrees C (or 27 degrees C for those engaged in physically demanding work).
When the temperature goes sky high at work, employees can suffer heat rashes, headaches, dizzy spells, fainting and heat cramps, says a TUC report.
Stifling hot working conditions also affect concentration, making workers feel tired and as a result more likely to endanger their own or their colleagues' safety.
Although UK safety laws require employers to provide safe, risk-free environments for their staff to work in, the absence of a maximum temperature in which people can work means employees frequently work in places where it is too hot to safely do so, says the TUC.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "No one is expected to work in sub-zero temperatures but overheated employees are meant to carry on regardless of how high the office temperature soars. We need to see action now, before the impact of climate change is felt and our summers become hotter than ever."
A recent TUC survey showed that even when the summers are not particularly great, many employees have to work in very hot conditions, particularly where they work in buildings with lots of windows. Ninety-four percent of respondents said their workplaces had been too hot to work in last summer, and four in 10 (42%) said they regularly worked in unbearably hot conditions.
Do you agree with the TUC? Should safety legislation require employeres to maintain a cool temperature? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I do agree with a maximum temperature in the workplace. I must say not just for office workers. I am a cleaner for our local council and have to work in sometimes unbearable conditions. The bosses have windows and air conditioning, we have totally no ventillation, particulary in changing rooms and toilets, the smell and growth of mould is gross. Please remember the minions as well as the office workers. We are humans too! Please remember the novel of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" – Sara Tsuruki, Lancs
"I welcome an upper limit. If people are cold they can put a sweater on, if people are too hot they can't strip down. It is simple. Anything over 23 is too hot for me but I know everyone is different which is why we need guidelines and an upper limit. Headaches, nausea, tiredness are a few symptoms, and to top it off, feelings of being completely disrespected and devalued as an employee is also a symptom. There also needs to be somewhere people can go to access support from the outside too if the boss is being unreasonable and/or unresponsive to the risk of employee health. If there is, can someone let me know where the help is?" – Mike, Sheffield
"I work in a inadequetly air conditioned office. The air con has had problems since I have worked here, which is now four years. The temperature can make an already stressful job even more taxing. Headaches, fatigue and nausea are the common issues I experience as well as a lot of physical discomfort" – Denis, Nottingham
"I am not happy working in hot temperatures whilst at work, and the company has not resolved the issue to date. As a result I have been suffering from heat rashes, light-headedness, feeling faint, headaches, fatigue and loss of concentration. We are working in tempertures of 30 degrees and over, my workplace is not prepared to do anything because there is no legislation. There are no Health and Safety laws to protect workers from working in these conditions, there is no justice" – Mo Ramzan, Nottingham
"Yes, I definitely do. I work in an office for NHS with four people now. We have windows but we have air-conditioning and as stated one selfish person seems responsible for turning it off and it is unbearable. I felt really faint this morning and lethargic. A higher office limit should also be put in place" – Vivien Law, NHS Birmingham QE Hospital
"Yes I agree, as companies tend to turn a blind eye to this sort of problem. All too often one single person in an office decides whether it is too hot or too cold and they then adjust to suit themselves with no regard for others - a fairly selfish attitude but employers do nothing or use the old excuse there is no upper limit. No single person should ever be in a position to make the decision to raise or alter the temperature of a workplace" – William Ross, Scotland
"Yes I do. My office was 32 degrees last week and senior managers did nothing." – Lucy Padfield, Ascot, Berkshire
"Absolutely! Our workplace often reaches the high 20s, which, even for people like me who love the heat, is just too high to be productive. Air conditioning is not a good option but in offices with many windows there are various alternatives that can be effective. We certainly need to be aware of the health hazards of airless, hot offices and either act or be prepared for staff absences" – Pam Huntley, Surrey
"Yes, definitely. Our office can be unbearable in the summer. People complain about the heat all the time and productivity goes down. The other side of the building, which is 'cooler', had a temperature of 30ºC. I reckon on the side I work it was easily 5ºC above that. That's with all the windows open, which incidently only open a little bit as there are brackets on them. And two fans blowing the hot air around. There should be a law and I am amazed that there isn't one. If you are cold you can put more layers on. If you are hot, what are you supposed to do... strip off???" – Caroline, Aberdeen
"Yes, definitely. Employees will work harder, as a positive attitude has been shown to them with regards their wellbeing at work" – Steve Reynolds, Heysham
"Our office is very cold in the winter (bought a heater last winter, which helped) and very hot in the summer. We have windows which do not open so they create heat but do not help it to disperse. There is no air conditioning in the office, which is 20ft x 10ft and houses five permanent staff all with PCs and the lights on during the day, and many visitors. Our H&S rep suggested monitoring the temperature throughout June and July to get a true idea of the temperature. I do it morning and afternoon. Every morning is 23C and every afternoon is either 26 or 27C. It might not sound that hot, but by 2pm every day everyone has lost concentration and is feeling sleepy and complains of headaches. I haven't sent the results in yet, but I am not expecting much to be done, as installing air conditioning would be really expensive and the plan is that we will move to a new area at some point, but this hasn't happened in the five years that I have worked here ..." – Bev Bellerby, Birmingham
"As a country that is obsessed with health and safety I am amazed that we have no upper limit on workplace temperature. I am glad that the TUC is fighting for this, and support them wholeheartedly. My office is always unbearably warm. There is no air con and the windows only open a few inches (for health and safety reasons!). It was an airless and humid 30 degrees in the office today! Everyone was red faced and sweating. I have a headache and feel completely drained as a result. This will now impact on my own personal leisure time, as all i am fit for now is an early night! It's disgraceful that employers allow and expect us to work in these conditions" – Pamela Caton, Lancashire
"Yes, I have often commented on this as where I work gets very stuffy. We are now in a new building where some areas have air conditioning, but others do not. Classrooms for general purpose do not have air conditioning installed whereas all IT-based rooms have. The new building conforms to all health and safety standards and therefore contains many more fire doors, which by law must be kept closed no matter how high the temperature rises. Once I close classroom doors the air circulation becomes more or less nonexistent, even with the windows open. I get very hot, sweaty and uncomfortable and so do my students. I very strongly agree with there being new legislation to cap high temperatures in the workplace" – Jacqueline Palmer, Middlesex