The soon to be released 2016 safety representatives survey by the TUC, the federation representing the majority of trade unions in England and Wales, places high temperatures as one of the top concerns of 16% of the over 1,000 safety representatives who responded.
The problem was said to be particularly high in some sectors including central and local government, education and manufacturing. One of the biggest problems cited was post-war buildings with a high glass content.
An earlier survey of almost 6,000 teachers, school and college leaders and health and safety representatives, found that 94% of respondents reported that they had worked in excessively high temperatures during the summer, with 42% doing so regularly.
Trade union representatives provided a large number of examples of where members were exposed to excessive heat. A survey by one union representative of 27 telephone exchanges found that temperatures averaged 28.64°C with some temperatures up to 36°C. In total, 76% of the buildings were over the WHO recommended standard.
In another example, a two-storey secondary school in Birmingham regularly experienced summer temperatures in excess of 30ºC in its top floor ICT rooms. The union representative reported that at least one of the rooms has two walls that are almost entirely glass. With no air conditioning and more than 20 computers in the room, it was reported that when summer external temperatures exceed 22°C the room’s temperature rises to 31/32°C and on occasions even higher.
There is no maximum temperature for UK workers. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations merely state the temperature inside workplace buildings must be ‘reasonable’. The TUC has called for a maximum temperature of 30ºC or 27ºC for those doing strenuous work.
Despite union complaints, the TUC says that without legislative back up and support from the HSE or local authority inspectors, progress is usually impossible. Safety representatives have reported that enforcement authorities have been unwilling to intervene when asked, and the TUC says there is no evidence of any enforcement action.
The TUC maintains that without a specific maximum temperature, the current regulations are impossible to enforce unless a worker is seriously injured or killed by heat stress.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that the temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. It lists cooling systems as one of a number of reasonable steps that should be taken to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature.
Cool it!, a TUC guide for trade union activists on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace, is available for download here.