RCN calls on employers to prioritise health and safety during extreme heat

With extreme heat being seen now and forecast in the coming days, we’re calling on employers to ensure staff wellbeing is prioritised. 

While there’s no upper legal limit on workplace temperatures, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature inside buildings should be reasonable during work hours. 

Heat stress can lead to dehydration and staff feeling ill, which is dangerous for them and their patients. It can affect cognition and lead to longer term health problems including urinary tract infections and acute kidney injury. 

RCN Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing Leona Cameron said: “It’s a legal requirement for staff, patients, and relatives to have easy access to drinking water. Where water stations are not readily available, staff should be allowed water bottles on shift. 

“Employers must think about ways to reduce the temperature indoors, for example providing fans and using window shades or blinds. Where possible, additional measures may also be introduced such as relaxing uniform policy and rotating staff away from warmer areas on a regular basis.” 

The RCN also advises that special consideration should be given to staff with increased vulnerabilities such as those who are being pregnant, taking certain medications, or anyone living with a health condition which may be exacerbated by hot weather. In these situations, individual risk assessments should be considered, and reasonable adjustments made. These could include additional breaks and changes to shift patterns. 

With COVID-19 cases rising, many staff are also expected to wear additional PPE which may increase the risk of heat stress and dehydration. FFP2/3 facemasks may need to be changed more regularly if, for example, they become contaminated with bodily fluids or breathing becomes difficult. 

It’s important that all staff are aware of the signs of heat stress and dehydration so that they can ensure appropriate and timely help is given. 

The RCN has a range of guidance to support and encourage good practice within the workplace. Our Rest, Rehydrate, Refuel resource provides information for staff and managers, whilst our Personal protective equipment (PPE) guide contains advice for members caring for COVID-19 patients.

by Wendy
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