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British Standards Institution addresses the UK’s current heatwave


Remarking on the UK’s summer heatwave of record-breaking temperatures, Kate Field, Global Head of Health, Safety, and Well-being at BSI commented on the considerations required by employers for those working during the heatwave:

“Once again, parts of the UK are expected to reach record breaking temperatures. It is clear that instances of extreme weather, including very high temperatures will become more frequent until we make effective inroads into tackling climate change.

Currently the Paris Agreement is seeking to prevent further temperatures rises rather than reduce existing levels, so organizations need to start considering sustainable interventions to keep workers safe and healthy during adverse weather conditions including heatwaves – they will become more frequent.

Working during the heatwave

Depending on the type of work, immediate actions organizations need to consider include providing a space where workers are insulated from outside temperatures (or at least shaded), ideally with a means of cooling or moving the air (air-conditioning or fans); and provided with cool drinks to maintain hydration and regulate body temperature. Adapting work patterns so that external work, or physical tasks are done outside peak hours of heat (11am-3pm) is also effective.

Workers, including workplace first aiders need to know the signs of conditions like heat stroke or other forms of thermal-related ill health, particularly dehydration and UV radiation risks (skin cancer). Organizations also need to identify if there are particular workers who are more at risk – certain medications, menopause and age may be factors that need to be taken into account.

Longer term considerations

In the medium to longer term, organization need to consider more permanent arrangements. For many there is a great opportunity to do this as they consider the future of work following from the pandemic. Many organizations are considering the design and function of their office spaces – this is the perfect opportunity to consider thermal comfort and designing in risk mitigation measures.

Organizations can also look to other countries – whilst in the UK this level of heat is new and unusual, in many parts of the world, it is normal. Heat risk management is common in places like Australia, the Middle East, Africa and many other countries. As well as the risks associated with heat stroke, high temperatures can increase other risks such as slipping while holding a sharp tool due to sweaty hands and increases human error, as concentration is affected – so a worker may forget to guard a machine or make a calculation error when mixing chemicals.

The current heatwave serves to remind of the urgent need for organizations to prioritize their people and sustainability, both for the sake of their workforce and the environment, because the two are inextricably linked.”

More about working in extreme heat