A maximum indoor temperature working law giving people a day off if workplace temperatures surpass 30C should be mandated by government, a new report recommends.
The report by the Fabian Society thinktank highlights inequalities in who bears the brunt of the impacts of climate breakdown and puts responsibility on bosses and landlords to stop people from overheating.
An increasing number of people are dying from excessive heat in the UK. More than 4,500 people died in England in 2022 due to high temperatures, which was the largest figure on record. Between 1988 and 2022, almost 52,000 deaths associated with the hottest days were recorded in England, with a third of them occurring since 2016, data from the Office for National Statistics shows. During the same 35-year period analysed, more than 2,000 people died in Wales due to the warm temperatures.
Drawing on advice from experts from a range of organisations including the National Infrastructure Commission, the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford, the Fabians have drawn up a plan to prevent illness and death from the increasing extreme heat predicted to happen in the UK due to climate breakdown.
These include introducing a specific maximum indoor working temperature law, including the ability to withdraw labour if workplace temperatures surpass 30C, or 27C if doing strenuous work.
It found that “low-paid workers often lack sufficient access to water, can not escape the heat, and have to wear uniforms or personal protective equipment (PPE) designed for cooler temperatures.” Hospitality and manual workers are most likely to face excessive heat, but also employees in education establishments and offices can suffer if they are working on higher floors or in areas with big windows and poor ventilation. Workers in better-off households are less likely to work in jobs where they are at risk of overheating.
A duty should also be put on landlords to prevent overheated homes, based on the existing requirements for landlords to prevent cold homes, the authors said. They added that homeless people should be protected by a requirement on councils to activate the severe weather emergency protocol in extreme weather events and provide temporary accommodation for rough sleepers for the duration of the severe weather alert, and a minimum of three nights.
The report also calls for tougher climate resilience requirements on infrastructure providers, and a ban on the burning on upland peatlands as well as investment in the maintenance of flood defences currently in poor condition.
Action to stop climate inequality has not been taken by the current government, the report states. It says: “The Conservative government’s most recent National Adaptation Programme lacks substantive new plans or investment to prepare for future climate impacts. This leaves low-income households especially vulnerable. Those on low incomes are more likely to face the worst impacts of extreme weather events and are less likely to be able to adapt.”
The report also warns that the electricity system, transport infrastructure and schools and hospitals could all be at risk of shutdown due to overheating. It states that not enough is being done to climate-proof new infrastructure: “In the coming decades, a huge number of new homes, new infrastructure, new hospitals and public buildings will be built. If these are not designed for the future climate, we risk ‘locking in’ poor resilience in key sectors and the cost of retrofitting more buildings and infrastructure in the future.”
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