Can you remove PPE in hot weather?

Construction safety equipment PPE
PPE in hot weather can be particularly uncomfortable for construction workers.
Alex Minett looks at the rules around hot weather, PPE, and what employers can do to keep their workers safe from the heat on site.

The record-breaking temperatures this summer have made for some uncomfortable working conditions. For people whose jobs necessitate wearing PPE it has been even tougher. With talk of heatwaves becoming a regular summer occurrence, what are the rules around hot weather and PPE?

What is the law on working in hot weather?

While there is no legal maximum temperature limit, all employers have a duty to protect the health and safety of their workforce under the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

The risks of working in hot temperatures, or exposure to the sun, must also be assessed and controlled under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999, which cover specific obligations for heat.

What are the risks of overheating?

Heat-related illnesses are collectively known as heat stress. Heat stress encompasses issues such as heat cramp and heat rash as well as more severe conditions like heat exhaustion, which can lead to heat stroke. The latter would constitute a medical emergency.

More commonly, dehydration is a risk for all workers in hot conditions with the potential to cause dizziness and confusion, which could affect their ability to work safely.

Can PPE be removed in hot weather?

Employers must comply with the Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992, which stipulate PPE must be suitable for the risks, the workers using it, and the working environment. As PPE is a last resort for protection, the temptation to remove it and continue working if it is causing thermal discomfort must always be discouraged. However, wearing some PPE in hot conditions does increase the risk of heat stress so other options to reduce overheating should be explored.

What other options are there?

Several control measures can reduce the risks associated with working in the heat. First, consider whether outdoor work can be cancelled, postponed or scheduled for cooler times of day. Also, can any physical work be substituted for work using machinery?

As a minimum, increase the frequency of breaks during hot weather and provide shaded or air-conditioned rest areas with access to plenty of water, and encourage workers to hydrate regularly.

Is there PPE specifically for hot weather?

There are several products on the market that can help workers with the heat. Cooling vests that can be ice-cooled like ice packs and cooling bandanas, towels and wraps all actively reduce body temperature. Hard hat neck shades or legionnaire hats with a flap and brim to protect the ears and neck, long-sleeved, cool clothing and protective eyewear with UV filters as well as breathable safety footwear can all help workers stay comfortable and protected.

Don’t forget that any changes must be compatible with existing PPE and consider that demand on PPE may increase if workers are changing regularly due to increased rest breaks.

Remember your risk assessments

The HSE’s thermal comfort checklist is a useful tool for undertaking risk assessments during hot weather and its Heat Stress checklist can help identify individual heat-related risk factors.

Regular training will benefit workers in recognising and responding to the signs of heat-related illnesses.

For more vulnerable workers, for example those with pre-existing health conditions, it may be necessary to refer to occupational health workers or clinical healthcare professionals for further advice.

Technology can play its part in your heatwave toolkit too with the development of heat stress sensors in armbands and other wearable devices to measure physiological signs of over-heating.

Finally, a company-specific heatwave plan or policy is a good idea to protect workforce welfare and support business as usual during periods of hot weather. If the predictions are correct then it may need to be triggered on a far more regular basis in future.

Alex Minett is head of products and markets at CHAS.

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