Assessing the Impact of High Temperatures in the Workplace

The impact of high temperatures in the workplace is to be assessed through a parliamentary inquiry.

Summer heatwaves are expected to increase in both frequency and intensity as a result of rising temperatures, so the Environmental Audit Committee has expressed concern about potential risks to health and productivity.

It is inviting submissions until March 14th 2018 and the scope of the inquiry includes the economic impact of higher temperatures in both indoor and outdoor workplaces, as well as the extent to which this is reflected in economic policy.

In the case of public buildings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, the committee will look at measures to minimise overheating and consider how effective they are in the short, medium and long term.

While employers in the UK have an obligation to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace, there is no legally binding minimum or maximum level. Guidelines suggest 16 degrees C as a minimum and schools are required to maintain a temperature of at least 18 degrees C.

However, overheating poses a major challenge for businesses, with last year’s ‘Fellowes Productivity in the UK’ report showing high temperatures are a cause of distraction for 37% of office workers. They contribute to the loss of 21 million working days every month, emphasising the need for effective air conditioning and ventilation systems.

Protecting people and businesses

Mary Creagh, the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, said the government should be doing whatever it can to mitigate the risks associated with higher temperatures.

“Climate change means the UK faces hotter summers and more heatwaves, and our ageing population will face an increased risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths,” she said. “Our inquiry will look at whether the UK is prepared for higher temperatures, and what more the Government should be doing to protect people, businesses and digital infrastructure from rising temperatures.”

The Committee on Climate Change has warned about the risk of overheating posed by a poor ventilation system or too much glass in a building, with deputy chair Baroness Brown calling for building regulations to cover the management of high temperatures.

And with Met Office projections showing temperatures will continue to rise, effective HVAC systems are more important than ever in preventing damage to health and loss of productivity.

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