June 13, 2022
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The great British summer is fast approaching and temperatures are set to rise, while this may be good news for those looking forward to relaxing in the shade with a cool drink, it can cause problems for those busy at work.

Working outdoors during the summer months can be harmful to your skin and long-term health. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause sunburn, blistering, sunstroke, and skin damage and may even lead to skin cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer.

Whether indoors or outdoors working in excessive heat can cause a number of medical issues including:

  • Heat rash also known as prickly heat, is a skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin.
  • Heat cramps caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating
  • Heat exhaustion which is the body’s response to excessive loss of water and salt as a result of heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst and heavy sweating. Or even
  • Heat stroke when the body is no longer able to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs can include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are serious conditions and anyone showing symptoms should receive immediate medical assistance.

 So what is the maximum temperature for working?

While regulations do state that “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable” in the UK there is no set maximum temperature for a workplace and the regulation does not apply to outdoor workplaces. What is reasonable will depend on the workplace, a reasonable temperature in an office may not be the same as a reasonable temperature in a bakery.

What can we do to manage work in hot temperatures?

There are a number of precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of heat related ill health including:

  • Where possible arrange outside work to avoid the hottest periods of the day.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade away from direct sunlight.
  • Consider relaxing formal dress codes and letting people add or remove layers depending on temperature. Of course sometimes it is necessary to wear special clothing e.g. for visibility or protection against hazards i.e. personal protective equipment (PPE). In these cases it may be necessary to adjust the amount of work and rate of work that employees are required to do.
  • When taking breaks remove PPE to help encourage heat loss (ensure breaks can be taken in a safe area where PPE can be safely removed).
  • Allow new staff or those returning to work more frequent breaks, allowing them to acclimatise.
  • During hot periods, take plenty of breaks and consume a small cup of, preferably cool, water every 15 to 20 minutes (up to one litre of water per hour).
  • Wear sleeved tops outdoors. Covering up offers the best protection from UV rays. Note, wet clothing provides less protection.
  • Wear proper UV sunglasses as these are the only ones that block out 100% of UV rays (those will have a UV 400 label or similar).
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 or more as this offers protection against both UVA and UVB. Apply evenly and regularly. But don’t relay on sunscreen alone do not extend time spent out in the sun because you are wearing sunscreen, regular breaks should still be taken
  • Using a spray or alcohol-based sunscreen will help to prevent dust etc. from sticking and causing irritation.
  • Hard hats should still be worn where required, use a cloth or something similar to cover the back of the neck (ensure the hat still fits correctly).
  • Always keep an eye on others around you for symptoms of heat exhaustion.
  • Check your skin regularly for any signs of moles or spots. See your GP promptly if you see anything that changes shape colour size or if it itches or bleeds.
  • Controlling ventilation and air movement e.g. by providing fans, ensuring windows can be opened and radiators turned off and that any air conditioning systems are maintained.
  • Moving work stations away from hot processes or plant.
  • Providing shade and avoiding work in direct sunlight.

Please speak to your normal PIB Risk management contact or get in touch using [email protected]  if you have any questions workplace temperature and thermal comfort.