Working through the heat wave: a guide for small business owners

1st July 2015

After waiting the whole year for some sun, we finally get a summer’s worth over just a few days: it’s time for the heat wave!

It’s hard to work when it’s boiling hot and you have sweat running into your eyes – it’s almost impossible to concentrate, and your employees will just want to take a nap in front of a fan.

The lucky people will be relaxing on a beach right now, but most of us will be stuck in work.

As the owner of a small business, you have a duty of care for your employees. At first this might seem like a burden, but you’ll actually benefit from it because you’ll ensure your employees can continue to be productive in the heat.

Temperature in the work environment

There is no legal maximum temperature that you can make employees work in, but you must make sure it is reasonable, for both their comfort and their health. “Reasonable” is obviously subjective, but there are things you can do to keep an office as cool as possible.

Keeping the office cool

If you have air conditioning, this is the time to turn it on, but if you don’t you can always rent a mobile air conditioning unit.

If there’s no air conditioning, open as many windows as possible to keep the air circulating, but pull down the blinds or close the curtains to keep the sunlight out.

Place multiple fans around the office – having just one fan in the corner will only benefit the people sitting right next to it.

Let staff take more breaks

You should allow your employees to take breaks more often so they can get something to drink and get some fresh air. Don’t worry about them getting less work done – giving them a chance to cool down and get comfortable will ensure they can keep up their levels of concentration and productivity.

Be flexible

Consider allowing your employees to start and leave work at different times than usual to avoid travelling during rush hour in the sweltering heat. They won’t be very motivated to work if they have to cram themselves into a packed and boiling Tube train to get to the office, or get stuck in a traffic jam.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

You don’t want your employees to get sick because of the heat wave, so look out for the signs of heat stroke (which can be serious and even fatal). Symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke can include headaches, nausea, high temperature, vomiting, fainting, or loss of concentration.

Loosen up on office attire

Let your employees wear more casual, loose fitting clothes to work during the heat wave, but issue guidelines to discourage them from wearing anything inappropriate, such as short skirts.

The heat wave can make anything you do a struggle, let alone working in an office. So use the guidelines we’ve outlined above to ensure your employees are working in a safe and comfortable work environment.

And remember, in case you haven’t noticed we don’t get too much sun, so try and enjoy it while it lasts.

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