How hot is too hot to work?

15th July 2022

Industry matters • Regulation

There have been a few posts hovering around cyberspace recently with some figures stating “if it gets above X degrees you can go home”. It’s a nice thought, but it’s not accurate. In fact, these posts were probably written by the grown-up versions of those kids in your class who, if a teacher dared enjoy an extra minute in the staff room with a biscuit and a brew, would confidently proclaim “If they’re not here in 5 minutes we get to go home”.

Alas, just like you were fully expected to sit through double maths (and be grateful that it was five minutes shorter than normal), there is no magic number for the thermometer to hit so you can down tools and head off to the nearest beer garden.

Instead, there’s a set of guidelines which are designed to help you and your team cope in the extreme heat which seems to be getting more frequent in the UK with each passing year – we look at a few tips from HSE below – warning, some are almost painfully obvious.

Stick to the shade where possible

If there’s shade available, use it. It will likely be cooler, less exhausting, and will protect you from potentially harmful UV rays.

Reschedule work to cooler periods

Not always possible, admittedly, but if the most physically exerting parts of a day’s work can be carried out before or after the hottest time of the day (11:00-15:00) then you’ll be doing yourself a favour.

Drink plenty (of water!)

Whether you feel thirsty or not, make sure you’re drinking regularly throughout the day. You’ll be losing more water than usual so make sure you increase your intake!

Keep your clothes on

Strictly speaking, this should be a given at all times because of health and safety/public decency laws. However tempting it may be to shed a layer or two to help you cool down, this increases your risk of skin damage. If you’re wearing appropriate, breathable clothing, it could be cooling you already anyway.

Take regular breaks

You’ll get more done stopping for a few minutes every half an hour than you will working for two hours solid and then being out of commission for the day because you’re exhausted/dehydrated. Use these regular breaks to ensure you’re adhering to the rest of these guidelines; have a drink, find some shade – where safe to do so, maybe even remove your PPE during breaks for a bit of respite – we know hardhats and overalls aren’t great in the heat!

These are all aimed at those working outside, but office (and home office) dwellers need to be careful as well. Inside temperatures can be even higher than outside. Particularly if you work in, for instance, an old barn with a corrugated tin roof that resembles a slow cooker during the summer months. Ensure you’re wearing appropriate clothing, having plenty of drinks, and giving yourself a break occasionally. If an ice cream van appears, feel free to indulge – for health and safety reasons, of course.

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