20 July 2021

Dealing with extreme heat in DWP workplaces

The Met Office has issued its first ever Amber Extreme Heat Warning as large areas of the UK will continue to see hot conditions this week.

Although there is no legal maximum for temperature, under health, safety and welfare legislation managers are responsible for ensuring that staff work in a comfortable working environment.

The DWP office environment guide states that the ideal working temperature for DWP sites is between 21 and 23 degrees.  However, many parts of the UK have had temperatures in the 30s recently, so there is likely to be an issue in our offices.

Covid Safety measures

Unfortunately, many of the air conditioning systems in our offices cannot be used due to covid safety.  We can only use air conditioning that extracts and exchanges the air not the type that recirculates the air as this could potentially spread covid especially if there are asymptomatic people in our offices.  This also prevents the use of fans unless someone is in a room on their own.  If you have windows that can be opened and create a through draft, then use them.

There are things the office manager can do to make it more comfortable for people to work in the office 

  • Open as many doors and windows as possible, but never wedge open fire doors. It is important to have windows on both sides of the building open. This will encourage cross-flow ventilation. In windy conditions it is better to have all the windows open a little rather than a few open a lot
  • Ensure blinds are closed properly on the sunny side of the building to reduce solar gain. In summer the windows on the eastern side will have been exposed to the sun for some hours before staff arrive for work so unless there are reasons not to, e.g. specific security concerns, close these blinds before leaving for the day.
  • Allow staff frequent breaks to have drinks of cold water to combat the effects of dehydration
  • If practical, move staff into rooms less affected by solar gain
  • Allow regular breaks in the open air
  • Extend lunch breaks allowing full flexi credit for any extension
  • Staff public caller areas on a rota basis to allow the benefit of regular breaks in the open air
  • Consider sending home any officer particularly at risk, e.g. those who are not in the best of health, allowing full flexi credit for absences
  • If practical, increase home visiting and allow staff to write cases up at home
  • Consider relaxation of dress code standards
  • Consider home working
  • Staff who work standard hours should not be expected to make up lost time when extended breaks or early departures are allowed.

Raise an incident

In dealing with overheating problems it is essential that site managers keep all occupants and the trade union appointed safety rep fully informed.

When office temperatures rise above a threshold of thermal comfort and the problem affects more than one individual, is widespread or affects the whole building, site managers should contact the helpdesk (0870 606 0065) and raise an incident or contact the appointed service provider on non DWP estate sites.

Complete an accident corm

If you are too hot and it is uncomfortable to work complete an accident form at SOARS (sheassure.net).  Please copy your local health and safety rep in so that they can identify the extent of the problem and negotiate with local managers the measures that can be put in place to help alleviate the problems.

In these high temperatures it is important that control measures are put in place to mitigate the situation.  Heat stress can cause severe problems to the individual so should not be ignored.

Heat stress can affect individuals in different ways, and some people are more susceptible to it than others.
Typical symptoms are:
•    an inability to concentrate
•    muscle cramps
•    heat rash
•    severe thirst - a late symptom of heat stress
•    fainting
•    heat exhaustion - fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin
•    heat stroke - hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage.