A union is calling for a legal maximum workplace temperature to be introduced in Britain as the country faced its hottest day of the year so far on Thursday.
The mercury reached 33.3°C (91.94°F) at Heathrow Airport on the outskirts of west London, sparking calls for employers to also prevent “uncomfortably high temperatures” at work.
The retail workers’ union Usdaw called for a 30°C maximum working temperature, and a lower limit of 27°C for those involved in strenuous work. It also said employers should be expected to adopt cooling measures when temperatures edge beyond 24°C.
There is no legal maximum temperature for workplaces in Britain. But the Health and Safety Executive recommends workplaces should normally be at least 16°C, or at least 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort.
The HSE has said previously that high temperatures in some workplaces, such as glassworks and foundries means “a meaningful maximum temperature cannot be given.” Appropriate control measures mean it is possible to work safely in such conditions, according to the government body.
But British workplace regulations state that the temperature in all indoor workplaces “shall be reasonable” during working hours.
Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said: “As temperatures rise this week we want workers to know that employers are expected to take reasonable steps to deal with uncomfortably high temperatures. Special care needs to be taken as workplaces implement necessary social distancing and coronavirus safety measures.”
He added that outdoor workers controlling queues or collecting trolleys need sun and heat protection, some sort of shade if possible, suitable clothing, sunscreen of factor 30 or above, water to prevent dehydration and frequent breaks.
“Now that fans cannot be used, indoor workers need cool drinks, more frequent breaks, relaxed dress code, along with opportunities to remove masks and face visors,” he added.
He warned that temperatures above 24°C could spark heat exhaustion. “People start to suffer loss of concentration, there are increases in accidents and loss of productivity. Symptoms include irritability, dizziness, headaches, nausea and fainting.”
The hot weather has seen the authorities declare a major incident on the south coast of England, as crowds flocked to beaches to enjoy the sunshine. Beachgoers were reported to be “packed in like sardines.”
Council chiefs in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole said services were "overstretched," as thousands arrived at the coast despite being urged by the police to stay away amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The UK government has been approached for comment.