What Does the Law in The UK & EU Say About Working in a Heatwave?

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UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) – It appears that legislation in European countries has not fully addressed the increasing intensity of summer heat. Let’s take a closer look at the laws in the UK and EU. Southern Europe is currently bracing itself for another round of scorching temperatures this week, as the Cerberus heatwave, aptly named after the mythological beast guarding the gates of hell, continues to tighten its grip on countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece. With Spain expecting the thermometer to soar to a blistering 45 degrees Celsius and at least 10 cities in Italy being put on high alert, the question of when it becomes too hot to work has emerged.

UK Faces Unprecedented Heat Wave

Last summer, the United Kingdom faced an unprecedented heatwave, prompting the GMB workers’ union to advocate for the implementation of a law that would protect laborers from being compelled to work in hazardous and scorching temperatures. This appeal raised a crucial question: at what point does the heat become unbearable for workers, and why is there a lack of regulations addressing this issue?

Despite the GMB’s call to action last year, the UK still lacks specific regulations that define the threshold at which a workplace becomes too hot for employees to work in, and subsequently request to be sent home (preferably to indulge in a refreshing ice bath). However, there is a recommended minimum temperature guideline in place.

Health and safety guidelines mandate that the workplace should be “comfortable,” except for excessive cold. Specifically, temperatures in an office environment should not drop below 16 degrees Celsius, or 13 degrees Celsius for physically demanding work.

Interestingly, there is no mention of an upper limit, which may have been overlooked in the past but has now become a pressing concern. Surprisingly, even countries accustomed to high temperatures have not adequately addressed the risks posed by extreme heat to our well-being.

At the European Union level, there is no standardized regulation specifying the maximum allowable temperature in the workplace. However, some countries have taken the initiative to establish their guidelines.

France & Italy

In France, the “Code du Travail” governs the country’s labor laws. While it does not explicitly specify a maximum workplace temperature, it does mandate that employers ensure their workers can perform their duties in a safe environment. This obligation could reasonably extend to protecting employees from the potential hazards associated with extreme heat.

According to a specific provision in the code, employers in the construction sector are required to supply their workers with a minimum of 3 liters of water per day. This provision can be seen as a crucial measure to provide relief during scorching hot days.

Italy’s labor law does not define a maximum temperature allowed in the workplace. However, similar to France, it mandates that employers ensure the safety of their workers while performing their duties. In a landmark ruling by the country’s highest court of appeal in 2015, it was established that workers possess the right to halt their activities without facing income loss or termination if their employer fails to provide a safe working environment or subjects them to “prohibitive” temperatures.

Read More: France and Britain Battle It Out For Europe’s A.I. Crown

Portugal, Germany & Spain

In Portugal, the workplace temperature is legally required to be maintained between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius, with a maximum limit of 25 degrees Celsius in specific situations. Equally important, the humidity levels in the workplace must be carefully regulated, falling within the range of 50 to 70%.

In Germany, there exists a guideline suggesting that workplaces maintain a maximum temperature of 26 degrees Celsius. It is worth noting that this guideline does not hold the force of law. Nevertheless, employers bear the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of their employees if the temperatures exceed this threshold. 

This entails taking appropriate measures, such as providing access to potable water when the thermometer reaches 30 degrees Celsius and allowing for regular breaks to mitigate any potential risks.

According to the National Institute for Hygiene and Safety at Work, it is recommended that office environments maintain a temperature range of 17 to 27 degrees Celsius. For tasks involving light physical effort, the ideal temperature falls between 14 and 25 degrees Celsius.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.