Hot and bothered: extreme temperatures at work
Unless you’ve been living under a shady rock, you’ll be well aware that the current UK heatwave is set to see temperatures skyrocket to highs of 40C.
While it’s easy to think about weathering this record-breaking climate by sunbathing in the garden with a cool beverage and a book - I know I am! - the reality is: the heatwave will seriously disrupt the day-to-day life of millions of Brits.
Heat at work
In spite of the sweltering heat, UK workers will still have to commute to their places of work as normal over the next couple of days. For many, the most employers will offer them is a sprinkling of generic advice such as “stay hydrated” or “avoid going outside”, not daring to stray too far away from ‘business as usual’. But at what cost?
While there is no law against minimum or maximum working temperatures in the UK, Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 says that employees must not be subjected to “serious or imminent danger” - like, say, a heatwave that the government has deemed a “risk to life”.
The truth is, employers not only have an ethical responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of their staff but a very real legal one too.
A climate emergency
But this is just a one-off, right? Well, unfortunately, the science says otherwise. A study of the European heatwave in 2019 found that the heatwave was 10 times more likely to have been caused by climate change than by any other factor.
With a very real climate emergency on our hands, heatwaves will only become even more frequent. As the pandemic has shown us, major global changes and events require a genuine long-term mindset and culture shift - you can’t go against the tide forever.
The idea of making permanent adjustments for a hotter world is certainly not new. Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn previously called for a ban on working in temperatures over 30C, and while opponents may have scoffed at the time, today’s heatwave proves a need to think seriously about the effects of climate change in the workplace.
Although some employers have already started thinking about dealing with extreme temperatures, these tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The vast majority prefer to ‘power through’ in the way they always have done, and it is workers who suffer.
We have to start thinking about extreme weather and temperatures as a serious and permanent wellbeing consideration if we’re going to truly unfuck work in the long-term.
As we sail into a future of extremes, creating a culture genuinely focused on employee wellbeing is the only way to weather the storms that may come and navigate the choppy waters of change.