The government said that existing legislation already gave employers a duty to provide reasonable working conditions for employers and framing new legislation to specify weather thresholds was not practical.
But the Unite union, which represents construction workers, said the refusal to legislate gave “a green light to the cowboys who ignore workers’ welfare”.
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “This shows the arrogance of government and just how out of touch the Tories are with the lives of ordinary workers, many of whom suffered extreme heat distress while at work this summer.”
A report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on 26th July, titled Heatwaves: adapting to climate change, made a host of recommendations to ministers about how the country can better cope with the hot weather to which it is starting to become accustomed.
One of the recommendations was that the government “should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort”.
It suggested that workers operating in temperatures above 28 degrees should have a reduced dress code and flexible working should be allowed.
The government has now published its response to this report and said it sees no merit in the committee’s recommendation.
In its reply to the committee the government said: “The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is the regulator with responsibility for workplace health and safety, including thermal comfort in the workplace. The government has no plans to bring forward proposals to set a maximum permitted working temperature as there is an existing legal obligation on employers under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.
“In 2009, an independent review of workplace temperatures completed on behalf of HSE concluded that there is little evidence of significant numbers of cases of illnesses (long or short term, physical or psychological) caused or exacerbated by exposure to high temperatures at work and concludes that this is not an issue that justifies active regulatory intervention.
“The scientific evidence supports this position, since air temperature is only one indicator of potential thermal discomfort in the upper range (e.g. a temperature above 25°C). Simple temperature limits would not prevent the more serious condition of heat stress from occurring and could be counterproductive from a health and safety perspective if inaction occurred below the upper limit. Other important factors, such as humidity, air velocity and radiant temperature, become more significant (and the interplay between them more complex) as the temperature rises. It is the employer’s duty to determine, in consultation with their workforce, what is ‘reasonable comfort’ and to take action accordingly.
“It is not possible to set a meaningful maximum figure due to factors, other than air temperature, which determine thermal comfort (for example, the radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity). These factors become more significant and the interplay between them more complex as the temperature rises. It is the employer’s duty to determine, in consultation with their workforce, what is ‘reasonable comfort’ and to take action accordingly.”
Unite national officer for construction Jerry Swain said: “The government received an entirely reasonable report from a cross party group of MPs and they just dismissed it out of hand. The government’s inaction is giving a green light to the cowboys who ignore workers’ welfare.
“By failing to take action the government is making life more difficult for the good employers who try to do the right thing and look after the welfare of workers as they fear they are being placed at a commercial disadvantage.
“Construction and all workers deserve to be treated better than this, there need to be clear enforceable regulations ensuring that employers take responsibility for workers’ welfare in all forms of extreme weather.”