The Lowdown: how hot is too hot in kitchens?

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

The Lowdown how hot is too hot in kitchens?

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The Drapers Arms in Islington has announced it will close its kitchen today (25 July) as temperatures of up to 39°C in southern and eastern England are forecast.

Well you know what they say, if you can’t take the heat…
This is less to do with the stress of working in a kitchen environment.

How do you mean?
Are you living under a very cool rock? The country is feeling the heat right now… and we’re not just talking about all the hot air coming out of Downing Street. Today is likely to see the mercury hit its highest ever recorded level, with some areas of the country expected to reach 39°C. And obviously, in an already hot kitchen – particularly one without a decent ventilation system – the temperature is likely to climb even higher. In light of this, The Drapers Arms in Islington has taken the decision to close its kitchen today, with owner Nick Gibson posting on his Instagram that he “cannot reasonably ask staff to work in a 40°C environment”.

That’s certainly a thoughtful gesture, but seems unnecessary. Aren’t there are laws in place for employers to follow when it comes to this sort of thing?
You’d think so, but no… perhaps because, let’s face it, the UK only experiences temperatures like this once in a blue moon. However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has long argued for a maximum working temperature of 30°C, or 27°C for physically strenuous environments.

30°C? That would see a lot of kitchens shuttered…
Indeed. A black and white limit on temperature would be extremely problematic. However, employers have a legal and moral responsibility to keep their staff safe – if an employee working in an excessively hot environment injured themselves then an employer could be liable. In the wake of this latest heat wave, the TUC has called on the government to amend the law, saying: “it’s against the law to transport livestock when it gets too hot, so why are workers still forced to toil in this heat?” It goes on to say that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) refuses to tackle the issue of employers not acting when the temperature is too hot or set a maximum working temperature, despite having published guidelines in the past on what it thinks is ‘acceptable’.

So beyond, say, telling chefs to put a few cubes of ice down their trousers or dust their nether regions with corn starch, what can be done by restaurants to ensure their staff aren’t crippled by the hot weather?
The HSE has a number of recommendations that includes controlling the temperature using engineering solutions such as fans; regulating the length of time staff are working in such hot environments by providing regular breaks; prevent dehydration by ensuring staff are regularly encouraged to drink water; and providing appropriate personal protective equipment, but owing to the risk of heat stress employers are also told to permit the work to occur at a slower rate in such conditions.

Any other suggestions?
Well, you could always just follow the example of the Crouch Hill sarnie king Max Halley, who has also decided to close shop today. Although, judging by his Instagram post (see below), this has less to do with health and safety concerns and more to do with a desire to spend the day knocking back pints in the nearest pub.

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