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Employers urged to safeguard workers amid heatwave

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Yellow heat-health alert spurs call for increased protective measures

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the United Kingdom’s workplace regulator, has emphasised the urgency for employers to guarantee the safety of their employees during potential periods of intense heat this summer.

In response to the first yellow heat-health alert for 2023 issued by the UK Health Security Agency and the Met Office, the HSE insists that employers must act to ensure the well-being of workers, particularly in the face of potentially record-breaking summer temperatures.

Call for responsibility in the absence of legal limits

Though no legally established maximum temperature for workplaces exists, the HSE is imploring employers to act responsibly. With concerns related to high temperatures nearly doubling in July 2022 and visits to the HSE’s online guidance for working in hot weather increasing tenfold, the regulator urges employers to assess risks and manage the impact of extreme weather on workers’ health and safety.

Recommended measures to mitigate heat risks

The HSE suggested a number of cost-effective adjustments that employers can make to reduce the risk of heat-related issues. These include ensuring windows can be opened or closed, using blinds or reflective film to shield workers from the sun, placing workstations away from heat sources, providing access to drinking water, and relaxing dress codes, amongst others.

The HSE emphasised the importance of educating workers about the symptoms of heat stress and how to respond should someone be affected.

Taking steps towards climate adaptation

Many companies, like Nottingham-based engineering firm CNTL Ltd, are already making adjustments to deal with the changing climate. Implementing simple measures such as switching to LED lightbulbs and offering flexible working hours have helped to keep workers comfortable.

“The heat was getting unbearable so we brought everyone together to agree what we could do,” shared Dane Rawson, Director of CNTL Ltd. He further described how the firm has begun considering additional long-term adjustments like making modifications to the roof to reduce heat absorption.

Last summer a ‘wakeup call’

John Rowe, HSE’s Head of Operational Strategy, highlighted the summer of 2022 as a critical wakeup call for employers. “Climate change means we’re likely to get hotter summers… affecting everything from health of workers to productivity on construction sites,” Rowe noted.

He urged employers to begin planning and implementing “simple and cheap measures” now to support workers in the event of extreme heat. This anticipation and preparedness is the mark of “sensible, supportive employers,” according to Rowe.

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