Roofers Left High and Dry by Government Inaction on Working Temperatures

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The Government has left roofers high and dry with their response to the Environmental Select Committee’s report ‘Heatwaves: Adapting to climate change’.

The group of MPs made a series of recommendations to the Government which included introducing a maximum working temperature for workers. Currently, employers only need to ensure the temperature is “reasonable”. For outdoor workers, employers have an additional duty to ensure there are rest breaks and employees are encouraged to drink plenty of water.

Whilst some employers did follow these recommendations during the summer, the joint hottest on record, others did not. According to trade union Unite’s national officer for construction, some roofers were still required to work in full PPE at the height of the heatwave where ground temperatures reached the mid 30oCs. On rooftops, temperatures exceeded 50oc, making not just the work uncomfortable, but also dangerous.

Yet the Government believes existing legislation is sufficient and the onus should remain on the employer. They added that there is ‘little evidence of significant numbers of cases of illnesses caused or exacerbated by exposure to high temperatures at work’ yet many roofers are acutely aware working at height during a heatwave is dangerous.

So what can a roofer do? Advice from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) states that employees can collectively approach their employer to complain that their working conditions are unreasonable. If this happens, the employer is mandated to carry out a risk assessment and take remedial action as appropriate, however ultimately the decision will rest with the employer and the Government has no plans to enforce a maximum working temperature in law.