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'Too hot to work'? What Spanish law says about top temperatures on the job
Friday, July 22, 2022 @ 5:52 PM

UNPRECEDENTED temperatures across northern Europe have led sweltering residents to question, probably for the first time, how high the mercury has to climb to be 'too hot to work' – and, in some cases, no laws have ever been in place, since they have never been needed.

With parts of the UK seeing temperatures higher than in southern and Mediterranean Spain on Monday and Tuesday – shifting the historic record upwards to a top figure of 40.2Cº and hovering between 32ºC and 40ºC in most of the country – schools shut 'for safety reasons' and many employees questioned whether they could legally request to work from home.

Britain has no legal maximum workplace temperature, but UK employees discovered this week that they needed one as the mercury soared into the mid-upper 30s and even shut schools. Spain, where these are normal figures in summer, does, indeed, have upper limits

It turned out that, although minimum workplace temperatures are in force, there is no set maximum in Britain – only a requirement on the part of employers to ensure the job environment is 'comfortable'.

Part of the argument for the lack of a 'maximum workplace temperature' was that in iron foundries and glass-blowing workshops, and similar environments where employees are, necessarily, exposed to extreme artificial heat, any 'top legal figure' would make it impossible for them to do their jobs.

This could be set to change, as a mass movement across the country is now pressuring the government to rethink existing legislation, given that heatwaves sparking 'red warnings' for the first time in the UK are likely to become more frequent, longer and hotter, due to human-induced climate change.


But what about Spain? 

Even in the coldest parts of Spain, temperatures in the mid-30s and heatwaves pushing thermometers towards the 40s are standard during a Spanish summer; the world-famous 'long lunch hour' is a by-product of the days when a third of the population lived off agriculture, and now that most indoor workplaces have air-conditioning, the only reason for shops and offices to shut for between two and five hours in early afternoon is that everyone has got used to it and they don't want to change it.



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