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Working in Hot Weather

Tuesday 22nd Jul 2014 - Kate Hodkinson

One of the most commonly raised questions on our Health and Safety Courses for Managers relates to working temperatures. Even in a small organisation such as a GP surgery, there can be wide variations in what people consider to be suitable working temperatures.

To clarify the legal position – the law does not explicitly state a minimum temperature for a normal work environment such as a practice; however it does state that the temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16°C.  The 1992 Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations state that temperatures in workplaces should be “reasonable” but gives no definitive definition of what this means.

Employers need to consider the impact of heat upon the workforce and be particularly mindful of Heat stress. The Health and Safety Executive has produced a guidance note on this issue.

What is heat stress?

Heat stress is often a problem in certain work environments such as boiler rooms, laundries or bakeries but the effects can also be sometimes experienced in more normal workplaces. Heat stress is the term used to describe what happens when the body cannot control its internal temperature effectively. Sweating is one of our most effective ways of controlling this – however, sometimes things like inappropriate uniforms or protective equipment might hamper this natural process.

The effects of heat stress can be very serious and may include:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Muscle cramps
  • Thirst
  • Nausea or headaches
  • Skin problems

There are also other problems associated with working in hot or airless environments including short tempered , fractious team members and problems associated with unpleasant body odour – both of which raise issues that managers will need to respond to very quickly.

Taking Action

If you have air conditioning – switch it on!

The vast majority of practices may not have this luxury; however they need to consider other actions to maintain a healthy and safe working environment. Some sensible measures might include:

  • Talk to the staff about where the problem occurs most. It may be that certain rooms are particularly affected, or certain pieces of equipment or procedures  cause a significant problem
  • If this is the case considers the working times and patterns, workflow and workload to see how an individual’s exposure might be restricted.
  • Rotate people in jobs more frequently than usual
  • Can work be carried out during early morning or later afternoon times to reduce the impact?
  • Limit the time people spend doing certain tasks or in certain rooms
  • Provide a good supply of chilled water for the team and remind people to drink frequently
  • Introduce shorter but more frequent breaks
  • Offer people fans in their work places
  • Place shades or blinds on windows that cause significant heat problems
  • Consider  rearranging furniture away from sources of heat or sunlight
  • Relax the uniform or dress code temporarily

Some simple, proactive actions can prevent more serious issues from arising and also demonstrates a caring approach towards the staff and recognition of the pressures of their job. Record your actions and discussions at team meetings making sure that you actively listen to the problems and encourage the team to come up with workable solutions.

To find out more about the Thornfields Health and Safety Courses for both managers and staff, please contact us on 0333 240 4055 or email thornfields@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk

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