How To Cope With Excessive Workplace Temperatures

As workplace temperatures soar across the UK, reaching unprecedented temperatures, staff can begin to struggle to cope with the heat and to remain productive.

For the first time the Met Office have issued a level 4 heat health alert in England. This level is only issued when the heat is likely to reach levels that are so severe and/or prolonged that it will affect not only vulnerable high-risk groups but also the fit and healthy. When temperatures hit these levels the body finds it harder to remain cool.

Normal Body Temperature and The Result of Excessive Heat

A healthy body functions best at an internal temperature of about 37°C (98.6°F). When our body temperature exceeds this blood flow is increased to carry the excess heat to the body’s surface which forms as sweat. The sweat evaporates, removing heat from the body. However, when the outside temperature is higher than our body temperature this process can be restricted as it’s more difficult for sweat to evaporate.

If heat loss is impeded the body’s temperature will continue to increase leading to problems which can range from loss of concentration to dehydration, heat stress or heatstroke, fainting, heat exhaustion (headaches, dizziness, cramps, fatigue, and nausea), convulsions, loss of consciousness and even death. Excessive heat can also aggravate health conditions such as respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart problems, high or low blood pressure and kidney disease.

Current Legislation Regarding Workplace Temperatures

Workplace temperatures are defined within The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 in the Temperature in indoor workplaces section of the code. This states:

(1) During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.
(1A) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1) –
(a) a workplace shall be adequately thermally insulated where it is necessary, having regard to the type of work carried out and the physical activity of the persons carrying out the work; and
(b) excessive effects of sunlight on temperature shall be avoided.
(2) A method of heating or cooling shall not be used which results in the escape into a workplace of fumes, gas or vapour of such character and to such extent that they are likely to be injurious or offensive to any person.
(3) A sufficient number of thermometers shall be provided to enable persons at work to determine the temperature in any workplace inside a building.

Workplace temperatures should provide “reasonable” comfort without the need for special clothing. If reasonable comfort cannot be achieved because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable.

The regulations further state that a workplace should normally be at least 16°C, or if the work involves rigorous physical effort, then the temperature should be 13°C. However, there is no upper limit for working temperature so what is “reasonable” is open to interpretation.

Coping With Heat In the Workplace

Everyone’s idea of the “ideal office temperature” is different but we can all agree that when the office temperature is higher than our normal body temperature it will feel hot and it can become harder and harder to concentrate. So, what’s the best way to cope with the heat?

What Can Employers Do?

If the workplace has air conditioning this can help to maintain a “reasonable” temperature within the office.

If your building doesn’t have air conditioning there’s always the option of supplying individual / personal air conditioning devices e.g. the Kensington CoolView Wellness Monitor Stand with Desk Fan. The added advantage of this option is that each person can control the temperature within their immediate workspace.

Ensuring all windows have blinds or internal or external shades that can be closed or window film to reflect sunlight will help reduce heat in the workspace.

Office layout can also have an impact on temperature. Overcrowded areas will result in higher temperatures. Desks in direct sunlight will cause issues. Of course, there’s a need for natural light but when office temperatures are high moving desks out of direct sunlight will help staff cope with the heat.

According to NASA plants can help cool the air. NASA explains: “Plants release water vapor when they get hot, a process similar to sweating.. [which then helps to cool the atmosphere].” We also know that office plants play a role in health and well-being so having plants in the office can provide multiple benefits including improving air quality, helping to keep a space cool and improving staff health and happiness.

Colour can also help office temperature. Colour can have an impact on the perceived temperature of a room e.g., red, orange and yellow are warm colours whereas blue, purple, and green are known as cool colours. We also know that darker colours absorb light, and lighter colours reflect it so just as with clothes, whites or light colours can make you feel cooler.

Employers should provide staff with suitable drinking water and encourage them to make use of break out areas to take breaks to hydrate.

When the weather is hot relaxing the dress code can also help. Although employers are under no legal obligation to do so allowing staff to get rid of suits and ties can make a big difference to enabling them to stay cool.

What Can Employees Do?

In hot weather the most seemingly natural inclination is to open windows. However, keeping windows closed can help keep the heat out of the workspace. Equally keeping the blinds closed in your office can also shut out direct sunlight and heat.

It’s all too easy to forget to drink throughout the day but staying hydrated is vital in beating the heat. If you don’t have easy access to cold bottled water, consider putting some bottles of drinking water in your freezer overnight to take into the office. That way you’ll have ice-cold water available to you throughout the day.

Cut out tea and coffee if you can. Having a hot drink when the temperature is warm can actually help to cool you down as hot drinks will trigger your body’s sweat response, as long as the external temperature doesn’t prohibit you from sweating. However, tea and coffee contain caffeine which can increase your heart rate and blood flow which will then cause your temperature to rise, making you hotter. You should also avoid large meals as they will prompt your metabolism to work harder which will then increase your body temperature.

Electronic devices generate a great deal of heat, so if you can, minimise the amount of time you spend in front of a computer screen. Clearly this will be difficult if your work is heavily computer based but if you can take screen breaks throughout the day this should help you to stay cool. You should also switch off any equipment that you’re not using.

How Can JBH Refurbishments Help?

JBH Refurbishments have over 30 years’ experience in office design and development and fit out and can advise on all aspects of your Kent or London office refurbishment. Contact us via our contact form or by calling us on 0333 207 0339.

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