Employers Urged to Cool Down their Offices and their Staff

1 Jul 2009

With a heatwave warning in place this week for parts of the UK, and temperatures predicted to soar as high as 32°C, the TUC is today (Wednesday) calling on employers to relax office dress codes and cool down their overheating offices and their wilting employees.

By allowing staff to loosen their ties and leave their jackets at home, the TUC is hoping most employers will adopt a more relaxed approach to office attire - if only for the hottest days of the summer - and help make work more bearable for staff.

The TUC believes that the best way for staff to keep cool inside when it’s swelteringly hot outside is for them to be able to sport less formal, more casual clothing, and come into work in shirt sleeves and shorts.

Employers who provide their staff with a cool and comfortable work environment are going to get more out of them when it’s hot, says the TUC. Workers who are unable to dress down into more appropriate summer clothing and who work in offices without air-conditioning, fans or a plentiful supply of cool drinking water are going to feel lethargic, and lack inspiration or creativity.

Where employees are attending important external meetings or are dealing with the public, it may not be appropriate for them to turn up to work in vest tops and shorts, says the TUC. But so long as staff are turned out appropriately, it should be possible to agree on a dress code that both fits with the corporate image and helps keep staff cool.

And with our summers predicted to get hotter and drier over the coming years as a result of climate change, keeping workplaces and staff cool is going to be of increasing concern for employers, warns the TUC.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘We’d like British bosses to think seriously this week about how they can make their workplaces cooler and their staff less overheated. Allowing employees to dress down in the current heatwave will prevent them from collapsing at their desks, and could also save companies money as they are able to turn down the air con a notch.’

‘Employers have got to remember that it’s no fun working in a baking office or factory and they should be doing all they can to take the temperatures down. Clearly vest tops and shorts are not suitable attire for all front line staff, but those not dealing with the public should be able to discard their tights, ties and suits and opt for more summery clothing this week.’

The TUC says that in the searing heat there are many things that people can do to keep cool, and dressing down can be the most effective solution. Bosses should only stop staff from wearing shorts to work if they have first carried out a proper risk assessment, and only people whose jobs could prove hazardous should still be made to work in long trousers.

Although the law states that staff should work in a reasonable temperature, there is no legal maximum, says the TUC. Employees are not expected to work when the temperature drops below 16OC (or 13OC if they are do physically demanding work), but there are no similar restrictions for when the workplace becomes too hot. The TUC would like to see the law changed so there is an absolute indoor maximum of 30OC, with employers forced to introduce cooling measures when the temperature hits 24OC.

When the temperature goes sky high at work, stiflingly hot working conditions affect concentration, making workers feel tired and more likely to endanger their own or their colleagues’ safety, says the TUC.

To keep work cool, the TUC would like to see employers:

•allow staff to adopt less formal attire - with jackets and ties out, and short sleeves, vest tops and shorts in;
•distribute fans to staff and provide portable air cooling cabinets;
•install air conditioning and maintain it regularly, so that it doesn’t break down during a heatwave;
•allow flexible working so that staff can have the option of coming in earlier and staying later to avoid the sweltering conditions of the rush hour commute;
•move desks away from windows, draw blinds or install reflective film; and,
•allow staff to take frequent breaks and provide a ready supply of cool drinks.