As the UK faces a record-breaking heatwave, many workers are calling for a day off if the workplace temperature exceeds 30C. A new report by the Fabian Society, a political think tank, has recommended that the government introduce new legislation to protect workers from the health risks of extreme heat.
The impact of climate crisis on workers
The report, titled Hotting Up: The Climate Crisis and the World of Work, warns that the climate crisis will have a significant impact on workers’ health, safety and productivity. It cites evidence that high temperatures can cause heat stress, dehydration, exhaustion, fainting, heat stroke and even death. It also notes that some workers are more vulnerable than others, such as those who work outdoors, in poorly ventilated buildings, or in physically demanding jobs.
The report argues that the current legal framework is inadequate to deal with the challenges of rising temperatures. It points out that there is no legal maximum temperature for the workplace in the UK, unlike in other countries such as Spain, Germany and China. It also criticises the lack of clear guidance and enforcement from the government and employers on how to cope with heatwaves.
The recommendations of the report
The report makes several recommendations to improve the working conditions and rights of workers in the face of the climate crisis. Some of the key recommendations are:
- The government should introduce a legal maximum temperature of 30C for indoor work, or 27C for strenuous work, with a duty on employers to stop work or provide alternative arrangements if the temperature exceeds these limits.
- The government should also set a legal minimum temperature of 16C for indoor work, or 13C for manual work, to protect workers from cold stress and hypothermia in the winter.
- The government should update the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to include specific provisions on ventilation, air conditioning, shading, insulation and cooling systems in the workplace.
- The government should provide financial support and incentives for employers to invest in energy-efficient and climate-resilient buildings and equipment, as well as renewable energy sources.
- The government should ensure that workers have access to adequate breaks, hydration, sun protection, clothing and personal protective equipment during periods of extreme heat or cold.
- The government should promote flexible working arrangements, such as working from home, staggered hours, or shorter shifts, to allow workers to avoid the hottest or coldest parts of the day.
- The government should consult with trade unions and employers to develop a national heatwave plan for the workplace, as well as sector-specific guidance and best practices.
- The government should raise awareness and provide training for workers and employers on the health risks and prevention measures of extreme temperatures.
The reaction of workers and unions
The report has been welcomed by many workers and unions, who have been campaigning for better protection from the effects of the climate crisis. They have shared their experiences and concerns on social media, using the hashtag #TooHotToWork. They have also urged the government and employers to take action and implement the recommendations of the report.
One of the workers who supported the report was Lisa, a postal worker from London. She said: “I work outside all day, delivering mail and parcels. It’s unbearable when it’s over 30C. I feel dizzy, sweaty, thirsty and exhausted. I have to carry a lot of water with me, but it’s not enough. I worry about getting sunburnt, dehydrated or fainting. I think we should have the right to a day off or work from home when it’s too hot.”
Another worker who backed the report was James, a factory worker from Birmingham. He said: “I work in a metal factory, where the machines generate a lot of heat. It’s like working in an oven. The temperature can reach 40C or more. There is no ventilation or air conditioning. It’s hard to breathe, let alone work. I have seen colleagues collapse or get sick from the heat. I think we should have a legal maximum temperature and better cooling systems in the workplace.”
The TUC, the umbrella organisation of trade unions in the UK, has also endorsed the report and its recommendations. Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, said: “The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue, it’s a workers’ issue. Workers are on the frontline of the impacts of extreme weather, from heatwaves to floods. They deserve to be safe and comfortable at work, not put at risk of illness or injury. The government must act now and introduce new laws to protect workers from the heat. And employers must do their part and provide decent working conditions and equipment for their staff.”