Too hot to handle: Tips for helping staff cope with the hot weather
Following the first hot weather warning of the year by the Met Office on 8 June 2023, the Health and Safety Executive issued advice to employers on how to help their workers cope in the hot weather.
Here are some of the measures that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommend employers take:
1. Relaxing dress codes
If you have a dress code that requires employees to wear a uniform or dress in professional attire, you may want to consider loosening the rules a bit – perhaps allowing staff to ditch the suit or tie or allowing shorts instead of trousers. Obviously, a complete relaxation of the rules may not be advisable or you could end up having to have awkward conversations with staff about wearing too little, too few or (that frequent offender) flip flops.
2. Changing work patterns
Enabling staff to work at cooler times of the day. This isn’t going to work for every business but, where possible, consider allowing staff to come in a couple of hours earlier or later so they can leave before the afternoon heat kicks in (and they start nodding off to sleep).
3. Just one cornetto….
Offering to buy everyone a lolly, ice cream (or dairy/gluten free alternative) or cold drink can provide a momentary but welcome relief from the heat. Just make sure whoever you send out to the shop can run really fast so they haven’t melted by the time they get back.
4. Provide fans (and paper-weights)
Essential if your workplace doesn’t have air conditioning or even if you do have air conditioning but it only works properly on the top floor, where everyone is wearing jumpers.
5. Provide cold water dispensers
According to the HSE, water is better than caffeine or fizzy drinks. Some may beg to differ – as my Gran used to say – there’s nothing quite as refreshing as a cup of tea. However, the HSE are the experts.
6. Provide more breaks
So your staff can cool down, grab a cold drink, take turns to stick their heads in the break-room fridge, etc.
7. Ensure windows can open to keep air circulating (unless your office is at the top of a skyscraper).
8. Provide shades on windows or move workstations away from direct sunlight
The latter only if feasible or advisable (“ok, everyone on this side of the building I want you to pick up your desks and move them 5 feet to the right; all together now, one, two three…..”)
Of course, there will be working environments or work activities where the soaring temperatures will have a serious impact on a worker’s health if the risks are not properly managed. These include where the work is outdoors, or the work activity creates extreme temperatures. The HSE provides special guidance for protecting workers in these situations, with the emphasis on carrying out regular risk assessments to identify the measures needed to prevent the risk of heat stress and dehydration.
On a lighter note, this advice comes but once a year as no sooner are we digging out our sombreros than we are reaching for the umbrellas. So crank up the fan, top up that water cooler and pass around those Soleros – or can I tempt anyone with a cup of tea (so refreshing)?