With the temperatures set to hit up to 30C, unions are calling on employers to temporarily relax workplace dress codes to help their staff work through the heatwave as comfortably as possible.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned sudden increase in temperatures means that many workplaces may become unbearably hot.
While there is a legal limit below which workplace temperatures should not fall (16C), the TUC says that most people may be surprised to learn there is no upper limit.
For many years the TUC has been pushing for a change in safety regulations to introduce a new maximum temperature of 30C – or 27C for those doing strenuous work – with employers obliged to adopt cooling measures when the workplace temperature hits 24C.
This week employers can help their staff by allowing them to leave their more formal office attire at home, says the TUC, as the most simple way for staff to keep cool inside when it’s scorching outside is for them to be able to come to work in more casual clothing.
Bosses who provide cool and comfortable work environments will get more out of their staff when it’s sweltering, says the TUC. Workers who are unable to dress in cool summer clothing and who work where there is no air-conditioning, fans or cold drinking water will feel lethargic, and lack inspiration and creativity.
While it may not be possible for staff who regularly attend meetings with external clients, who deal with the public or who wear company uniforms to turn up to work in vest and shorts, so long as employees are smartly turned out, it should be possible to agree on a dress code that fits with the corporate image and helps keep staff cool.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s no fun working in a baking office or factory and employers should do all they can to take the temperature down. Clearly vest tops and shorts are not suitable attire for all front line staff, but those not dealing with the public should be able to discard their tights, ties and suits.
“Extreme heat can be as unpleasant to work in as extreme cold, and so long as the UK has no legal maximum working temperature, many workers will be working in conditions that are not just personally unpleasant, but will also be affecting their productivity.
“With temperatures set to soar this week, now is the time for employers to relax the dress code rules temporarily and allow their staff to dress down. Making sure that everyone has access to fans, portable air conditioning units and cold drinking water should help reduce the heat in offices, factories, shops, hospitals, schools and other workplaces across the country.”
The Chartered Management Institute have echoed the TUC’s comments, claiming that many businesses underestimated the effect that weather conditions could have on staff output.
To keep work cool, the TUC would like to see employers:
Allow staff to adopt less formal attire – with jackets and ties out, and short sleeves, vest tops and shorts in.
Distribute fans to staff and provide portable air cooling cabinets.
Install air conditioning and maintain it regularly, so that it doesn’t break down during a heatwave.
Allow flexible working so that staff can have the option of coming in earlier and staying later to avoid the sweltering conditions of the rush hour commute.
Move desks away from windows, draw blinds or install reflective film.
Allow staff to take frequent breaks and provide a ready supply of cool drinks.