In 2010 approximately five million staff days were lost due to overheating

27 July 2018

The Environmental Audit Committee has recommended that government should issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working when heatwave alerts are issued.

The Environmental Audit Committee has published its report into ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change.

Employers must provide a “reasonable” workplace temperature under section 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has established thermal comfort guidelines for workplaces. They note that indoor temperatures of over 28°C for long periods are likely to result in reduced productivity and that steps such as relaxing the dress code and encouraging flexible working hours should be taken. The Committee has found that failing to address the danger of heatwaves will threaten the wellbeing of an increasing number of vulnerable people.

The Health and Safety Executive has issued an Approved Code of Practice on providing reasonable workplace temperatures. They suggest that the minimum temperature in a workplace should be 16°C, but note that a “meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale.” In 2017, the Trades Union Congress called on employers to temporarily relax workplace dress codes to enable staff to work comfortably through the heatwave. However, the design of office buildings can make it difficult to mitigate the high internal gains during a heatwave.

 

Heatwaves can result in overheating workplaces and lower employee productivity. In 2010, approximately five million staff days were lost due to overheating above 26°C resulting in economic losses of £770 million. Given that extreme temperature events in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were in the early 2000s, similar losses will occur more frequently. However, some businesses, particularly smaller businesses, do not have business continuity plans in place.

The Committee recommends that the Government should make businesses aware of the developing threat of heat waves and the economic consequences. Public Health England should also issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working when heatwave alerts are issued. The Government should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort.

 

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said:

“Heatwave warnings are welcomed as barbecue alerts, but they threaten health, wellbeing and productivity. The Met Office has projected that UK summer temperatures could regularly reach 38.5°C by the 2040s.”

“…The government needs to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, particularly when they fall outside of the summer period, and should appoint a minister to lead work across government. The government’s new adaptation plan promises no effective action to prevent overheating in buildings. It must change building regulations and plan policies to ensure homes and transport networks are able to deal with extreme heat, and that local authorities and cities have green spaces and heat-resilient infrastructure.”

 

The full report from the Environmental Audit Committee is available here - Heatwaves: adapting to climate change.