Hot, hot, hot….Willie Rennie calls for maximum workplace temperatures

How are you all coping with the heat?

We are sweltering up here and I am very conscious that we are 10 degrees cooler than most of you in England and Wales. That must be incredibly uncomfortable

We had to stop the dogs going upstairs because it was so warm they were panting all the time. They are basically being kept most of the time in the living room with an air conditioning thing going.

I had a much better night than I expected. All humans and dogs seemed to sleep reasonably. You could tell it was it was hot though. No matter what the temperature, you will normally find me tucked in with the duvet up to my neck. Last night I lay on top of it – until 4 am when I got into bed properly cos my toes were cold.

Sadly I had to go out this morning to my local health centre. It was like an oven. The person who deprived me of my blood had two fans going and was still uncomfortably hot. I felt a bit guilty that I was able to escape to the air-conditioned supermarket while they were stuck in there all day.

So I was pleased to see that Willie Rennie has called for a maximum workplace temperature of 30 degrees and 27 degrees if strenuous work is involved.

At present UK government guidance suggests a minimum of 16ºC or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work but there’s no guidance for a maximum temperature limit. Instead employers just have to commit to “keeping the temperature at a comfortable level”.

However a report from the TUC suggests that short of someone actually being injured or killed it’s unlikely to actually be enforced, despite excessive temperatures being associated with a loss of concentration, increased accidents, falling productivity and risks to health.

Willie’s call would give employers a statutory duty to introduce effective control measures, such as installing ventilation or moving staff away from windows and sources of heat, in line with WHO recommendations for maximum temperatures for working in comfort. Willie has also filed a parliamentary motion which urges Scottish ministers to raise the issue with their UK counterparts.

Willie said:

Unfortunately, high temperatures are only going to become more common so the faster we think about adaptation the better.

High temperatures are clearly a concern for workers and workplace representatives alike. They lead to more accidents and falling productivity so reducing them can be a win-win.

Introducing a maximum workplace temperature and a duty for bosses to take action to keep their workers cool would be a sensible and humane step.

From increasing ventilation to moving staff away from sources of heat, there are simple steps which can be taken to make workspaces a more pleasant place.

I would like to see Scottish ministers take this issue up with their UK counterparts to see what can be done to give this legal force.

You would think that this heatwave would make us all think more about the effects of climate change, yet this seems to be much less important to Conservative leadership candidates than throwing marginalised groups under the bus to show they are right wing enough. If there were ever more evidence of a government that has just run out of steam and ideas, that is it. They should co-operate on a proper global plan to save the planet that stands a chance of working. We should not put up with their failure. There is too much at stake.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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10 Comments

  • Implementing maximum workplace temperature mandates will cause the following:
    -a need for huge capital investment in air conditioning across the entire country to mitigate situations that occur relatively rarely . This will make inflation even worse (fine for the vast majority of Lib Dem members, most of whom are very comfortable socio-economically, but definitely not for most of the country)
    -an increase in CO2 emissions, making the climate change problem worse (should be a worry to Lib Dem members). And whilst from a statutory point of view, the air conditioning will only need to be on for a few days of the year, in practice once the infrastructure is there, it will be on for most of the summer.

    I’ve done strenuous work for full days under agriculture polytunnels in daytime temperatures above 30oC (so a lot higher when under the polytunnels). Everyone was fine, even though the median age of employee was in the 40s. Admittedly almost everyone else was from the Balkans. There is clearly something very wrong with a lot of people in this country, in terms of their ability to adapt and deal with things that they find uncomfortable or don’t like.

  • George Thomas 19th Jul '22 - 4:30pm

    There are a large number of people with higher risk factors (be it age, health conditions, side effects of medication etc.) but I’m not sure introducing max temperature is right for everyone because it will lead to greater use of air-con, higher use of energy and eventually the problem becoming worse.

    I think support can be targeted at those with higher needs due to personal circumstances or where they are (how many prisons have air-condition and who is bringing them ice-cream to manage the heat?) rather than for 100% of people. Sadly, that relies on managers/governments being willing to put people first and, for same reason that we’ve not seen the massive capital investment into future proofing our building and travel networks, that all too often doesn’t happen.

    The same people who have ignored the science and/or profiteered from anti-climate groups are, more or less, the same people are now talking about pushing Net Zero back to 2070 so not to have it reduce today’s economy! We need to convince China, America, India, Brazil and others this is serious but our next immediate Prime Minster won’t be able to do that regardless of who wins the prize.

  • @ James Pugh I seem to recall the same sorts of arguments were used by the Gradgrind School of Economics when Lord Shaftesbury was campaigning for his 1875 Act to tackle the use of climbing boys in Victorian chimneys.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Jul '22 - 5:32pm

    @James Pugh
    “to mitigate situations that occur relatively rarely”
    But situations which seem likely to become more frequent in future and quite possibly be worse situations than we have been in this week.

    “Everyone was fine, even though the median age of employee was in the 40s. Admittedly almost everyone else was from the Balkans.”
    Ah – so almost everyone else was previously accustomed to working in such temperatures through having grown up in southern Europe.

    And many southern Europeans take siestas. But you know how it is – “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”

    If people are having to work in very hot conditions it is likely that their productivity will be impaired – be it brain work or physical work. There’ll be a cost to that.

    It would be sensible for managers to work with their staff to put in place mitigating measures such as modified working hours, ensuring buildings can be ventilated with cool air early morning and late in the day, while keeping windows shut and blinds drawn during the day. In other words taking the sort of precautions we are being advised via news bulletins to take at present.

    I do agree that using air conditioning systems might be over the top. But other mitigating measures should be doable and it should be a management responsibility to ensure they are brought into use.

  • @Nonconformistradical

    Their relative frequency will still be rare. Temperatures are expected to rise 1.5oC over the next 25 years. So London (one of the warmest places in the UK) with it’s average July/Aug high of 24oC can expect this to increase to circa 26oC. Extreme heatwaves will still be a relative rarity in the grand scheme of things

    Romania and Bulgaria are warmer than the UK, but not that much warmer. The key issue was that the people were adaptable and had a positive attitude to work, and got on with the job without fussing. And the British workers managed fine against this can do attitude. Much of the reporting on this heatwave has been hysterical, so obviously there has been some downstream neurosis into the some people.

    Once a fixed number is put for the maximum temperature, the only way to mitigate this is the installation of air conditioning. Ventilation, blocking of sunlight, etc can reduce the temperature, but it can’t guarantee to reduce the temperature below an arbitary figure. Minimum temperatures are feasible and practical because of existing heating systems. That’s why the practical and liberal solution is the “reasonable adjustments” principle. Do what you can, and expect flexibility.

    @David Raw. Well done for comparing apples with oranges.

  • You would think that this heatwave would make us all think more about the effects of climate change,..

    I wouldn’t myself; it’s just normal summer weather with a meridional jet steam due to low solar activity. Did the sea freezing in Greece earlier in the year make us all think more about the effects of climate change?

    ‘Sea Freezes in Greece in an Once-in-a-Lifetime Phenomenon’ [January 2022]:
    https://greekreporter.com/2022/01/26/sea-freezes-greece/

    Sea ice, usually found in more northern and polar oceans, appeared in Greece as the country was hit with sub-zero temperatures.

    or maybe the South Pole having the coldest six-month period since records began in 1957?

    ‘Antarctic interior posts coldest April-to-September on record’ [October 2021]:
    https://www.weatherzone.com.au/news/antarctic-interior-posts-coldest-apriltoseptember-on-record/535178

    According to the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), the average temperature at the U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station between April and September was minus 60.9ºC.

    This was the station’s lowest temperature on record for this six-month period, with records dating back more than 60 years.

    It was also the station’s second coldest winter (June, July and August) on record, with an average seasonal temperature of minus 62.9ºC. This is 3.4ºC below the long-term average (1881-2010) for winter.

  • James Pugh 19th Jul ’22 – 6:40pm:
    Temperatures are expected to rise 1.5˚C over the next 25 years.

    I’d take that bet. It’s now over six years since the average global temperature reached its (historically recent) peak and it has since cooled to 0.06˚C above the average for the 1991 to 2020 base period…

    Global Temperature:
    https://temperature.global/#one

    Global Temperature Report: The University of Alabama in Huntsville:
    https://www.nsstc.uah.edu/climate/

    Here’s a closer look at the last six years (with base period 1901 to 2000, so higher anomalies)…

    Climate at a Glance: Global Land and Ocean: Temperature Anomalies:
    https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series/globe/land_ocean/all/6/2016-2022

    Prior to 2016, the global average temperature was rising by around 0.15˚C per decade.

  • Unusually, I’m with David (I knew Jo Grimond) Raw on this one.

    It is absolutely ridiculous and Dickensian that there isn’t more specific legislation concerning minimum and maximum temperatures for work.

    People should not be expected to work under insufferable conditions – and, these days, they are.

    Oh, my God, employers may have to invest in air conditioning to make their employees comfortable at work! Oh my God! How awful for the poor employers! How will they cope?!

  • @James Pugh
    Averages… Well, there are lies damn lies and statistics… congratulations on not understanding what “relative frequency” and the average temperature really mean.

    Remember with weather, just as with financial products – past performance is no guarantee of future performance, particularly as we really only really interested in the next 10~20 years and mitigating the worst excesses of our current climate system. It doesn’t really matter if an ice age starts in 2100, a lot of excessively hot weather can still occur in the next 20 years as the climate goes through a natural (or manmade) warming cycle.

  • Laurence Cox 25th Jul '22 - 2:22pm

    @Jeff

    You really need to be more careful if you are predicting what will happen over the next 25 years, based on what has happened over the last five. The solar cycle, which we follow using sunspot counts also causes changes in the Sun’s output (particularly its ultraviolet output). So 2016 was on the downslope from the last solar maximum at the beginning of 2014 and there is around 0.1% change in the solar output from maximum to minimum:

    https://climate.nasa.gov/ask-nasa-climate/2910/what-is-the-suns-role-in-climate-change/

    The minimum was reached in 2020, but sunspot numbers are now increasing more rapidly than had been expected:

    https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/solar-cycle-progression

    which may now mean the next solar maximum comes in 2024 rather than 2025 (or if in 2025 it is much higher than predicted).

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