UK workplace regulations state that workplace areas must maintain reasonable temperatures, in regards to the job being undertaken. When working in a kitchen, however, what is considered a legal temperature is likely to exceed a comfortable one. So, it is important for employers and employees to recognise when they are at risk of being too hot, and what measures can be taken to reduce the risk.
Effects of heat
Heat can affect the body in a variety of ways, depending on the person. Heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke can occur in a working environment that is too hot and in some cases they can be fatal. It is of the outmost importance to be aware of symptoms. Typical symptoms include:
- An inability to concentrate
- Dehydration, headaches
- Muscle cramps
- Heat rash
- Severe thirst (in late heat stress)
- Heat exhaustion – where you become very hot and start to lose salt or water from your body, which leads to fatigue, gassiness, nausea, headache, moist skin. If left untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
- Heat stroke – where the body is no longer able to cool itself and the body temperature becomes dangerously high. It can put a strain on the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Some signs of this are hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions, loss of consciousness.
Individuals who are pregnant, or suffer from a heart condition are at a higher risk of being affected by heat.
What to do
If an employee is displaying any of the above symptoms, it is important to keep them cool and provide plenty of water. If you notice that someone has signs of heat exhaustion, you should (as suggested by the NHS):
- Get them to lie down in a cool place, such as a room with air conditioning or somewhere in the shade
- Remove any unnecessary clothing to expose as much of their skin as possible
- Cool their skin. Use whatever you have available, such as a cool, wet sponge or flannel, cold packs around the neck and armpits, or wrap them in a cool, wet sheet
- Fan their skin while it’s moist, this will help the water to evaporate, which will help their skin cool down
- Get them to drink fluids, this should ideally be water, fruit juice or a rehydration drink, such as a sports drink
If the person does not respond to any of the above treatments, or suffers a severe symptom such as a seizure, loss of consciousness, or confusion, then call 999.
Individuals can take responsibility for their own well-being in reducing the heat they experience. Employers should encourage their staff to:
- Regularly drink fluids (but not alcohol or caffeinated drinks).
- Take regular breaks for staff to get fresh air.
- Remove high risk individuals or those showing signs of heat-related illnesses from the hot working environment.
Cooling Down the Kitchen
Simple steps can be taken to reduce the heat in the kitchen as much as reasonably possible. These can include:
- Necessary Venting. Exhaust hoods capture and filter out heat, fumes, smoke, and particulates and can be effective in reducing kitchen heat.
- Doors and windows. Many doors and windows are sealed to prevent pests entering the kitchen. Shade or shutter windows that face the sun.
- Comfortable uniforms. Make sure all staff uniforms are made of a breathable textile and are not tight around the neck.
- Using fans. Place fans in areas that will not interfere with food safety, as they may scatter lighter items on to food; on floors, or in areas where food is not prepared.
Food Alert offer tailored food safety and health and safety advice that can help businesses with issues such as this and many others. For more information call 020 7244 1900 or visit www.foodalert.com