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News & Updates

Staying safe while working in hot weather

With the Met Office predicting a hot summer when Britain is likely to be hit by heatwaves and temperatures set to reach the mid 30°Cs, employers must ensure that they keep their employees safe while ensuring that their businesses remain productive during the heatwave.

Working in excessive heat is not only uncomfortable but can be dangerous and in extreme cases fatal. It can certainly lead to an increase in accidents and injuries. 

Outdoor Working 

What are the problems? 

There are some significant risks to be aware of during the summer months while working outdoors, which include skin damage and skin cancer, heat stress, heat stroke, fatigue, and dehydration

Skin damage and skin cancer

Too much sunlight is harmful to the skin. Individuals with fair or freckled skin, red or fair hair and light-coloured eyes and individuals with a large number of moles are particularly at risk.

In the short term, a tan and even mild reddening of the skin from sun exposure is a signs of skin damage. Sunburn can blister the skin to make it peel. Longer-term problems can also arise. Too much sun speeds up the ageing of the skin, making it leathery, mottled and wrinkled. The most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer.

The damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. 
HSE considers UV radiation to be an occupational hazard for those who work outdoors. Therefore, employers of outdoor workers have a legal duty to protect them, as far as reasonably practical, from the effects of UV radiation.

Heat stress

Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing are worn while working may lead to heat stress. Too much heat increases fatigue and can cause extra strain on the heart and lungs. 
The physical symptoms to look for include:

  • An inability to concentrate
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat rash
  • Severe thirst – a late symptom of heat stress
  • Fainting
  • Heat exhaustion – fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin 

Heat stroke
If not addressed, heat stress can lead to heat stroke. This is a severe condition and can result in death if not detected at an early stage.

The physical symptoms to look for include: 

  • Hot dry skin
  • Confusion
  • Convulsions 
  • Eventual loss of consciousness

De-Hydration
Dehydration occurs because there is too much water lost, not enough water taken in, or most often a combination of the two. This could be caused by sweating when the body loses significant amounts of water when it tries to cool itself or by insufficient fluids intake. 
The physical symptoms to look for include:

  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Low or no urine output; concentrated urine appears dark yellow
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lethargic or comatose (with severe dehydration)
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea, or the feeling that you “can’t keep anything down”

What can you do to protect your employees?

  • Rescheduling work to cooler times of the day where possible 
  • Introducing shading in work as well as in rest areas and providing more frequent rest breaks 
  • Providing free access to cool drinking water and encouraging employees to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • Encouraging the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss
  • Issuing employees with loose-fitting clothing and head coverings and encouraging employees to keep covered up with a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat with a brim or flap that protects the ears and neck
  • Supply a high-factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 and encourage employees to use sunscreen on any part of the body they can’t cover-up
  • Include sun protection advice in routine health and safety training and encourage employees to check their skin regularly for unusual spots or moles that change size, shape or colour and to seek medical advice promptly if they find anything that causes them concern.

Indoor Working 

What are the problems? 

Heat does not affect just outdoor workers but also employees working indoors. 

In hot and inadequately ventilated environment people experience discomfort and can suffer from an increased tiredness, dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps. Their stress levels rise, productivity declines and there is an increase in the likelihood of accidents due to reduced concentration levels and slippery, sweaty palms.
In the UK, there is no legal maximum temperature for working indoors. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that indoor workplaces should be kept at temperatures providing reasonable comfort and appropriately ventilated with clean and fresh air.
The Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers recommend that indoor temperatures should be between 13°C and 23°C depending on the type of work being conducted. 

What can you do to protect your employees?

  • Improve ventilation by providing fans or air-conditioning
  • Use blinds or curtains to block out sunlight and deflect direct heat and glare
  • Provide free cold drinks and the ability to take extra breaks, preferably in cooler areas
  • Relax uniform or dress code requirements during hot weather if possible
  • Moving workstations away from heat sources 
  • Utilising job rotation and rescheduling work to cooler times of the day where possible 
  • Allow staff to work flexible hours or work from home where possible to reduce the need of employees to travel to work during heatwaves  
  • Educate employees about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and the proactive measures they can take to protect themselves

Vulnerable workers 

What are the problems? 

Certain individuals may be adversely affected by the extreme heat, such as pregnant women, women going through menopause, elderly employees, and those on medication. 
Employers must consider the specific needs of vulnerable workers and ensure that the working environment will not make their symptoms worse. This includes assessing temperature and ventilation. 

Are you ready? 

First of all, employers should carry out a risk assessment to establish whether there is a risk of the exposure of outdoor and indoor workers to high temperatures during the summer. The risk assessment should take into account factors such as the working environment, work activities being undertaken, clothing and PPE requirements as well as specific needs of vulnerable individuals. 
The risk assessment should not be forgotten as soon as the typical mild British weather resumes but should be reviewed to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the arrangements and guarantee the company’s readiness for the next hot season.   
Ultimately, as Britain experiences longer and more intense heatwaves, employers must ensure that they have effective procedures in place ready to counteract the effect of high temperatures. 

Legally you are required to have documented risk assessments if you have five or more staff – this can be a very daunting task for a business owner who has never had to do this previously.
The best way to approach any Health & Safety task is to keep it simple.
This is where Stallard Kane Associates Ltd can help. We can guide you through the full process so that you have a full understanding of the risk assessment process, as well as assist you with the completion of, and implementation of, the documentation.

If you need help on any health and safety matter, contact your designated Stallard Kane Health & Safety Advisor or, if you don’t currently use our Health & Safety services, call 01427 420 402 or email healthandsafety@skaltd.co.uk and one of the team will be happy to help.