What You Need to Do to Protect your Staff During a Heatwave:

HRHQ Heatwave

by Moira Grassick, COO at Peninsula Ireland

Ireland is experiencing another heatwave this week.

According to Met Éireann, this means that the risk of heat stress will be very high for the coming days.

To learn how the risk of hot temperatures could impact your business, see our up-to-date health & safety advice…

Remember your duty of care

As an employer, you have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of your employees at work.

While there’s ‘no maximum allowable temperature’ under health and safety legislation in Ireland, both employers and staff must use ‘common sense’ in managing workplace safety matters.

If you ignore heatwave risks, your employees may suffer low moods, poor concentration, or even dangerous injuries.

Relax your dress code

Health and safety legislation states that the temperature in the workplace must be appropriate for the work activity taking place.

In determining what’s appropriate, you should consider the effects of wearing a uniform or protective clothing required for certain roles.

If your staff wear heavy uniforms, consider relaxing this policy while during the heatwave. By allowing staff to wear lighter or looser clothing, you’ll reduce their risk of overheating.

Likewise, if your business requires staff to wear a tie or a suit jacket, you could relax this requirement until temperatures dip again.

Consider flexible working

If feasible, you could look at shifting your employee’s hours to avoid working during the hottest times of day.

Carry out a risk assessment

To identify risks to employee safety during the heatwave, you should carry out a risk assessment.

In your risk assessment, you should consider:

  • Work environment: Temperature, humidity, and your employee’s proximity to heat.
  • Type of work: How physically demanding the job is.
  • Clothing: Whether your employee’s clothing can protect them from sun exposure and extreme temperatures.
  • Vulnerable staff: Elderly staff or employees with medical conditions might find working in hot temperatures more difficult.

It’s a good idea to ask your staff how they feel about the temperature. Does anyone complain that the air is too hot or too dry? Check in with them (staff should be involved in risk assessments) and this will determine whether you need to make changes.

Once you’ve identified any risks to staff, you can take steps to remove or reduce them. Keep reading to find out how…

Be mindful of your outdoor employees

Staff who work outdoors are more exposed to risks like sunburn, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. So, it’s important to make sure your outdoor staff:

  • Take regular breaks: You might want to establish a shaded rest area to stay hydrated. You could provide on-site water fountains use high-factor sun cream, preferably a minimum of SPF-15 avoid working in direct sunlight as much as possible
  • Midday is usually when the sun’s rays are at their most intense. If possible, it might be worth adjusting your staff’s working routine so they can work in cooler periods of the day like in the early morning or evening.
  • Make sure your employees have access to water, protective clothing, and shade. If possible, provide cooling areas such as an air-conditioned rest room or a shaded area.

If it isn’t feasible to keep staff out of the sun, you’ll need to make sure they take alternative protective measures. Which leads to the next point…

Provide appropriate clothing or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

If your employees spend too long in the sun without appropriate protection, they face a higher risk of suffering skin damage and in the longer term, skin cancer.

Under health and safety legislation, you have to provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) if there’s a risk to their health & welfare that you can’t control through other means. PPE should only be a last resort.

Examples of PPE you could provide include:

  • Sun cream
  • Protective eyewear
  • Wide-brimmed hats

As well as providing PPE to reduce risks, you should also educate your employees on the dangers of sun exposure. Which is why it’s important to…

Provide training

Ensure your staff understand the risks of failing to take action to protect themselves from sun exposure. In their training, you should:

  • Encourage them to regularly check their skin for any unusual-looking dark spots or moles.
  • Report symptoms or concerns and seek medical advice.
  • Outline signs of sun damage, heatstroke, and dehydration.