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Working in the heatwave: Employers urged to allow flexible work practices as temperatures soar


CIPD director Mary Connaughton

CIPD director Mary Connaughton

CIPD director Mary Connaughton

There are calls for employers to be more “flexible” with work arrangements over the coming days, as soaring temperatures could lead to excessive temperatures in some offices.

That’s according to the professional body for human resources and learning and development, CIPD Ireland, which has issued the advice amid reports that the mercury could reach over 30 degrees by early next week.

Ireland has no upper temperature limit when it comes to working conditions, but the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) recognises that, “an acceptable temperature for office work lies within the range of 18C - 23C”. The HSA’s ‘Guide to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations Guide 2007’ also highlights that a thermometer should be available if a worker wants to check the temperature.

"In cases where it is difficult to maintain an adequate overall temperature, it may be necessary to provide effective local heating, protective clothing or cooling at individual workstations,” the HSA guide says.

"The fact that a maximum temperature has not been specified in the Regulations does not mean that any temperature is acceptable. At high or uncomfortable temperatures, especially when not caused by temporary weather conditions, a means of cooling should be provided.”

CIPD Ireland’s Director Mary Connaughton said Ireland’s changed employment landscape means workers are now based in a wide variety of environments, including in the workplace itself, remote working hubs and their own homes.

“People’s health and safety must be a priority as always, and although the high temperatures are only expected to be with us for a few days, it’s worth being prepared,” she said.

"This is a chance to allow flexible work practices do what they’re designed for, and adapt to the conditions at any particular point in time. We’ve become better at drawing on this resource of being flexible in recent years so it’s worth keeping that in mind in the coming days”.

Ms Connaughton has argued that employers should facilitate work from home “within reason”, while acknowledging that some employees may prefer to carry out their duties in an air conditioned office.

“Starting and finishing earlier may be an option for some, while others might prefer to do some work in the cool of the evening. Work environments should be arranged to minimise any excessive effects of sunlight, such as using blinds, adjustment of workspace layouts.

"If a business has a set uniform for workers, consider relaxing it to suit the temperatures. Warm weather can affect concentration levels, which can be a real concern if someone is operating heavy machinery - so this must be assessed on-site.”

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Meanwhile, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) said in light of the expected temperatures, “employers will be keen to ensure that their employees remain comfortable while temperatures rise at work”.

"In the context of ensuring that temperatures in the company building(s) are reasonable, fans and air conditioners should be switched on to keep workplaces comfortable. The improved and enhanced ventilation systems which many employers will have invested in over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic will also assist in this regard. In addition, blinds can be used to minimise sunlight,” IBEC said in a statement. 

“Particular attention should be paid to certain cohorts of vulnerable employees such as older people, pregnant women or those on medication who may need additional rest breaks. These individuals should be prioritised for fans and reminded to keep hydrated.

“Staff who are required to wear PPE at work may also require more frequent breaks, opportunities to re-hydrate and more frequent opportunities to change PPE. Employers must provide staff with suitable drinking water in the workplace.”

IBEC said commuting to work may be “extra challenging” during periods of high temperatures, particularly for “older workers and pregnant women”, and employers might consider allowing these workers to “commute to work at off peak times or offer car parking where available”.

"Alternatively, depending on the nature of the employee’s role, it may be possible to allow the individual to work remotely on the days when temperatures are expected to peak. In a situation where the employee is already on a hybrid pattern of work, there may be scope for the employee to alter their designated days in the office for the week in question,” the statement added. 

IBEC said employers should also remind staff who are working outside to wear appropriate clothing and use sun protection, while – to prevent heat related illness –  employees may also need to “reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities” until the coolest time of the day. 

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