The heat wave we find ourselves in the middle of certainly came as a surprise, as it did to most people up and down the country. One of the unfortunate things about living in the UK is that despite our temperamental weather we never quite seem prepared for it! This means that for the past week or so, a lot of workers found themselves sticky and uncomfortable and operating in unbearable circumstances. We thought this week we’d look at what employers can do to help employees to be more comfortable at work, and what employees are entitled to do to keep cool.
The Guardian published a little guide on an employee’s rights with regards to high office temperatures. The guidelines on the exact numbers of how hot or cold an office should be are particularly vague; the Health and Safety Executive just says that the temperature should be “reasonable”. This of course means different things for different workplaces, so it is difficult to gauge what exactly reasonable is. Uniforms may actually be enforced by employers, should they feel that staff must maintain a level of smartness. This means that stuffy shirt and tie combinations may be mandatory even in a heat wave. Cold water and air conditioning units or fans are not actually required to be provided either. Whilst an employer doesn’t have to increase comfort levels for employees, one must weigh up the quality of work and the level of respect they will receive should they put a little effort into helping out their workforce.
We heard that some generous employers allowed staff a day or two off as office temperatures rose to extreme levels, however not everybody was so fortunate. This sparked debate over whether or not there should be a maximum temperature that should be set, above which people are not expected to work. The issue was raised in parliament with some support, however introducing such a law could be problematic as other conditions such as humidity, physical aspects of work and additional sources of heat need to be taken into account.
Skirting The Issue
Finally, we think this news story from Cardiff is brilliant. Strict head teachers at Whitchurch High School refused to let male pupils wear shorts to cope with the tremendous heat. When nothing changed after pointing out that females were allowed to wear skirts, the male students took matters into their own hands. They staged their own protest by turning up to school in skirts! The teachers were none too happy and sent them home; however I personally think they made their point rather well!