How hot is too hot to work? UK heatwave and workers' rights in extreme heat

As a serious heatwave hits the UK, these are your rights as a worker.

Temperatures are rocketing as the UK faces a record-breaking heatwave this week. The Met Office has announced an amber “extreme heat” weather alert for parts of Scotland and a red weather warning for Wales and England indicating a danger to life.

As it’s forecast to hit more than 32ºC in Scotland and up to 40ºC down south, here’s what the law says about working in hot temperatures.

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As a heatwave hits the UK, here is what the law says about working in extreme temperatures (Getty Images)
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Is there a maximum temperature to work in?

No. There is currently no guidance or UK law around a maximum temperature to work in.

However, the UK Government does say employers must stick to health and safety at work law. This includes keeping the temperature at a comfortable and “reasonable” level and providing clean and fresh air.

Current guidance is that employees should talk to their employer if the workplace temperature isn’t comfortable.

A man uses cool morning hours for a run on a small road during the heatwave in Europe, July 2022 (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

As extreme heat is classed as a hazard, potentially causing dehydration and heat exhaustion, all workers are entitled to an environment where risks to health and safety should be controlled.

John Rowe, of the Health and Safety Executive, said: “With a heatwave warning in place, its vital employers are aware of their responsibility to ensure their indoor workplaces are at a reasonable temperature.

“All workers have a right to a safe working environment and their employers should discuss working arrangements with them. If workers have specific queries or concerns relating to health and safety in their workplace, they should talk to their employer.”

Is there a minimum temperature to work in?

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Legally there is no minimum temperature for when it is too cold to work. However, the UK Government guidance suggests a minimum of 16ºC – or 13ºC if employees are doing physical labour.

Have people called for a change in the law?

Unions have been calling for a maximum temperature for working conditions to protect workers.

The GMB says this temperature should be set at 25ºC, and employers should allow flexible working and travel arrangements. Staff should also be given extra breaks in hot weather, the union said, and be allowed to wear cooler clothes.

Lynsey Mann, GMB’s health and safety officer, said: "This hot weather is great for being on a sun lounger, but if you're trying to work through it's no joke.

"Bosses need to do everything possible to keep workplaces cool and, more importantly, safe.This can be as simple as letting people wear more casual clothing and providing proper hydration.

"High levels of UV exposure also mean that outdoor workers have a much higher risk of developing skin cancer.”

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The TUC has also called for further protections for workers. General secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We all love it when the sun comes out, but working in sweltering conditions in a baking shop or stifling office can be unbearable and dangerous.

"Bosses must make sure outdoor workers are protected with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing."

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