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When is it too hot to work outside?

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The heatwave the Met Office warned us about is here, and temperatures are sweltering.

Last week, the Met Office issued its first-ever red extreme warning for heat as it said parts of the country could exceed 40C on Monday (18 July) and Tuesday (19 July).

It has issued guidance telling people to stay inside where possible, but what about if your job requires you to be outdoors?

While employers of those who work indoors have a legal obligation to ensure that the temperature in the workplace is “reasonable”, according to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, unfortunately there are no legal obligations for those with employees who work outdoors.

Can it be too hot to work outside?

“The law does not say how hot or cold the workplace should be and there is no legal maximum working temperature. Guidance only suggests that temperatures should be reasonable and comfortable,” Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR tells The Independent.

“Employers can keep staff safe by providing cold refreshments, shade and sunscreen, allowing longer and more frequent breaks, and relaxing dress codes. Where a uniform is in place, it can be helpful to give staff flexibility on how this applies during this warm spell.

“For example, instead of requiring staff to wear branded jumpers or fitted shirts, they may instead allow employees to wear a similar colour, but in a more comfortable material and style.

“In some industries this won’t always be possible, for example construction, where specific PPE is legally required to be worn. In this case, employers should consider adjusting working hours to avoid the heat of the day.”

If it is too hot, Price says employers need to “speak up” and ask for reasonable adjustments to be made.

Can you legally refuse to work if it is too hot?

Price says that an employee can refuse to work if their workplace poses a “serious or imminent threat to their health”.

“Under sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees are protected from being dismissed or subjected to a detriment (including having their pay reduced) for exercising their right to leave or stay away from their workplace.

Outside workers should try to adjust their hours so they are not working during the hottest part of the day

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“This means it could be unlawful to tell an employee to take unpaid leave if they reasonably refuse to work in the heat,” Price explains. “To be protected, the employee must have a ‘reasonable belief’ that their workplace poses a serious and imminent threat to them, or to others, including members of the public and their families.”

Price says that the threat must be on which the employee couldn’t reasonably have taken steps to avert.

“So, for example, if it was possible to work indoors, take regular breaks, drink lots of water, have access to a fan/air conditioning, and they didn’t, they wouldn’t be protected so could be told to take unpaid leave for a refusal to work,” he continues.

“Where concerns are raised, employers should ensure they are fully considered and, if they are valid, that adjustments are made.”

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