Health & Safety and Working Outdoors in Scorching Weather

Posted on written by Sam Barton

Britain is basking in a heatwave – a long heatwave.

While we aren’t particularly blessed with great weather in the UK, this summer has been a scorcher and following on from our blog post a few months ago – Tips to stay safe working outdoors in the sun – we want to look at outdoors workers from a health and safety perspective.

There is guidance for employers to follow when it comes to working in high temperatures and we will also look at the short and long-term effects of working outside in this heat.

What is an acceptable zone of thermal comfort?

We should all know by now that maximum temperatures to work in are a bit of a myth.

There is HSE guidance for employers that states working conditions should have an ‘acceptable zone of thermal comfort’ which is generally somewhere between 3°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F). That being said, if we look at the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, there is no legal maximum temperature.

Instead, employers have a duty of care to ensure safety and risk assessments should be carried out if we get into the scorching hot weather that we are experiencing at the minute.

Short and long-term effects of working outside in hot temperatures

There can be both short and long-term impacts of working outside in this kind of weather.

Immediate concerns consist of things such as heat stress, dehydration and exhaustion. These can lead to poor judgement, slower reaction times and an increased chance of falls and trips. This raises issues from a health and safety point of view not just for that employee but for everyone else too.

In the longer term, conditions such as skin cancer can be a direct result of working outdoors and there are 50,000 new cases in the UK every year – although not all of these are from outdoor work.

What can be done to negate these effects?

Carrying out a risk assessment is vital to ensure the health and safety of a workforce especially in hot weather.

If possible reschedule work to a cooler time of the day, provide plenty of cold drinking water and shaded areas and also ensure workers know the early signs of heat stress and dehydration.

These are simple steps but they can make a huge difference in making sure that everyone is kept safe at work.

Health & Safety and Working Outdoors in Scorching Weather

We don’t get that many heatwaves in the UK so when one does come along we often find it difficult to deal with.

By following some basic steps then everyone can be safe. There is guidance on what is an acceptable temperature for most workers however it isn’t set in stone as just because the temperature soars doesn’t mean you are entitled to get off work.

Following guidance from the HSE, carrying out risk assessments and applying common sense can ensure that the short and long-term effects of working outdoors in the sun are avoided as much as possible and that everyone is kept safe.

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