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Working in the heat

As we edge closer to the height of summer and the UK experiences warmer weather, employees and workplaces across various sectors face the balancing act of maintaining productivity and comfort. The heat can affect performance and wellbeing, whether working in an office, a warehouse environment, or outdoors. Extreme heat can also have significant implications for worker health and safety.

According to a study by Loughborough University, productivity can drop by up to 35% in temperatures of  35°C  relative humidity. Moreover, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlights that employers have a duty to ensure a reasonable working temperature in indoor workplaces, typically at least 16°C, but there is no maximum temperature specified.

While the weather is beyond our control, there are some essential steps both employees and employers can take to mitigate the impact of high temperatures in the workplace.

Hydration is key

Dehydration can negatively impact energy levels and concentration so it’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Aim for at least 2 litres each day, or more if you’re working outdoors or engaging in physical activity. We sweat more in hotter weather so, naturally, we need to drink more to replace fluids and minimise the risk of dehydration.

Where possible, avoid tea, coffee, and alcohol as these can dehydrate you further. If you do drink these, ensure you also have lots of water or other soft drinks. Keep a bottle of water with you when travelling on public transport and in the car.

Employers should ensure that their staff have adequate access to fresh water and the opportunity to drink throughout the day. Offering cold drinks and high-water content snacks like strawberries, cucumber, melon or even ice lollies is a great way to help staff stay hydrated whatever the weather.

Dress for success

Many companies expect their staff to maintain a dress code throughout the year, irrespective of temperature. However, for employers, it is worth revisiting dress codes to see how they can be adapted to extreme weather conditions. Employees who are uncomfortable and hot are far less likely to be productive and work at full capacity.

This also extends to outdoor roles where adequate sun protection is also required. Ensuring staff are equipped with proper protective clothing including wide-brimmed hats, lightweight and long-sleeved garments, and UV-blocking workwear and sunglasses is crucial to mitigate sun exposure. And of course, don’t forget the sunscreen! Applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sufficient SPF (of at least 30) with UVA and UVB protection, not only safeguards against skin cancer but also protects against premature aging and sun-induced skin damage. 

For employees, choosing to wear lightweight, breathable fabrics can alleviate discomfort in the heat. Lighter colours can also reflect heat, keeping you cooler.

Climate-controlled workspaces

In indoor workplaces, use fans or air conditioning to maintain a comfortable temperature. Position fans to enhance airflow without creating discomfort.

Employers should ensure that workplaces have adequate ventilation. For those workspaces that don’t have air conditioning, there are still ways to keep the workplace comfortable. Keep blinds or curtains drawn to keep the sun out, and windows and doors open to ensure the area is well-ventilated. Plus, investing in a few fans will help to keep the air moving and cooling.

For employees working outside, managing the climate is not always possible so it’s important to provide shaded areas and rest spaces for respite from the heat.

Adjustments to role

If possible, allow employees to work flexible work hours by starting work earlier or later in the day to avoid peak temperatures, especially for those employees using hot public transport to commute to work or those working outdoors.

The London Underground, for example, has been known to get uncomfortably hot during rush hours. It is simply less appealing to get on an over-crowded train, tube, or bus when it’s hot and stuffy, especially when they don’t have air conditioning.

Beyond this, employees should also take short, frequent breaks which can help them stay focused and prevent heat-related fatigue. Use break times to cool down in shaded or air-conditioned areas.

Conclusion

Finally, we all need to keep an eye on our health. Heat stress and dehydration can lead to serious conditions like heatstroke, heart problems, and breathing complications so it’s important to provide training on recognising symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, nausea, or a change in heart rate. It is equally important to create a culture of open communication where employees can discuss any struggles they may be facing while working in hot conditions.

Work together to keep your cool! Rather than just talking about the weather, it’s important to plan for it too. By implementing these strategies and following some basic guidelines, both employees and employers can help mitigate the impacts of heat and maintain productivity and wellbeing through the warmer months.

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