This week, much of England and Wales is set to be hit with record heat. As of writing, London is forecast to hit 40 degrees, something which forecasters only a few days ago said was only a remote possibility. Where I am in Wakefield, we are due to hit 36 degrees on Monday and 39 degrees Tuesday. Certainly temperatures we have not seen in this country.

There is no legal limit on how hot temperatures have to be in order for work to stop. But could the hot weather stop work anyway?

Extreme heat will affect work

It’s important to remember that the UK rarely gets heat like this. We have had prolonged periods of dry or cold weather, but this kind of heat is usually reserved for the likes of America, central Europe, Asia and other more tropical parts of the world. The fact that the mercury is about to hit 40 degrees for the first time in the UK is a very big deal.

As a country, we are not used to this level of heat. Infrastructure has not been built with this kind of weather in mind. Roads will likely melt, train tracks will buckle, and energy use will spike as people plug in fans and air conditioning units to try and keep the heat at bay. There is likely to be transport disruption on the roads and railways.

Legally, there is no law in the UK on working in high temperatures. So in that regard, there is no temperature in which it is too hot to work. However, employers are encouraged to ensure that their workers are able to do their jobs in as safe a manner as possible. On social media, I have seen companies from the fenestration sector decide to either work from home, close, or at least close early before the worst of the heat kicks in.

For installers, decisions will have to be made as to whether to work on sites or not. If you’re in an area where there is an extreme weather warning, it’s likely not wise to be pushing through these next couple of days. Working in 38-40 degree temperatures in a manual job, when we’re not used to these conditions, can be dangerous for all involved. There is a real risk of heat stroke. If work can be moved, then perhaps it would be wise to do so.

There are other more practical restrictions when the weather is this hot. For example, plastering becomes very difficult and won’t set properly. If you’re starting a conservatory or extension and need to lay concrete, it sets much faster in hotter weather and makes it harder to level and finish smoothly.

As with most things in life, common sense just needs to be applied where needed. I think we know when it’s too hot to work. I think we know when it becomes impractical. We know to do the right things such as staying in the shade and drinking plenty. Companies should be considering the conditions and make decisions as required.

Extremes more likely

It’s been odd to me to see so many people moaning about weather warnings on social media. Comments like “its just summer” or “usual MSM BS” have been peppered across social media platforms. Let’s be crystal clear. This is not normal for summer. The average temperature in July in the UK is around 23 degrees. So we’re 17 degrees higher than normal. The summer of 1976, which is being used as a comparison, was indeed warm, but the maximum temperature reached just above 35, so we’re well above those stats this week. The previous record was in 2019 where we reached 38.7, and we’re set to surpass that either today or tomorrow.

41 degrees in the UK is far from normal. Our infrastructure is not built to manage heat like this. We’re not India or Australia. We generally have a temperate climate, with temperatures that rarely cause disruption. So when we get warnings like this, they need to be heeded.

With climate change, we’re also likely to see more extremes like this in the decades to come. So whilst we’re not prepared now to deal with temperatures like this, we need to be investing now to adapt to a climate with more extremes.

Over the last two decades, our products have been developed to keep as much heat inside. Glass is now designed to make the most of the light and heat and let it travel inside into the home. Although there are now new trickle vent regulations for new window installations, it’s not going to be enough. I believe glass and frames are going to have to be adapted in the years to come to allow better temperature regulation according to the conditions.

New homes in this country are built to keep in heat. And in January, when it’s two degrees and grey, it’s great. I have a three-year-old Redrow home and the heat retention in Winter is great. At the moment it’s hell. Even with all the tips and tricks about keeping heat out, it’s still far too warm. Homes in this country are built to keep heat in, unlike Spain, where they’re built to disperse heat.

Windows are going to play a vital role in the health of a home. For example, when I left this morning, the heat that I could feel on the inside pane of glass was extraordinary. Products need to be developed to be able to regulate temperature better.

For now, let’s enjoy the weather safely. Drink plenty of water. Stay in the shade where you can and look after those who are vulnerable.

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