Chefs and kitchen workers are backing a call from the TUC to implement a legal maximum for temperatures in the workplace.
As the UK remains bathed in the hottest weather on record, with some kitchens recording temperatures as high as 55°C, hospitality workers are being forced to endure extreme heat without any legal protection or rights.
The TUC is now calling for a legal maximum for workplace temperatures to prevent employees suffering from heat-related symptoms, including fatigue, strain on the heart and lungs, dizziness and fainting. Although there is a legal minimum temperature below which workers are no longer obliged to work – 13°C for strenuous work, 16°C generally – there is no equivalent if it gets too hot. The TUC wants a maximum working temperature of 30°C, or 27°C for those doing strenuous work.
Chefs at Coulsdon Manor in Croydon, Surrey, called in an environmental health officer and threatened to walk out last week as kitchen temperatures rose to 44°C. “The air conditioning broke several months ago and it hasn’t been fixed,” said one kitchen source. “Some people have been suffering heatstroke and all we’ve got is two poxy fans which don’t do anything.”
Meanwhile, at Bridgewood Manor in Chatham, Kent, head chef Kirk Johnson has cooked up some innovative ideas to keep kitchen staff cool. “We’re getting chefs to come in two hours earlier so we avoid the hottest part of the day,” he said. “They love it because they get a long break to sunbathe but we’ve had to stop them going to the pub.”
Kitchen workers at Sopwell House Hotel in St Albans, Hertfordshire, are not faring so well. They have no working extraction or air-conditioning system and temperatures are as high as 55°C in the kitchen. “I totally support a limit on temperatures in the workplace,” said Alastair Bancroft, executive sous chef. “We’ve had several staff suffering from heatstroke – they’re red in the face, lethargic and very dehydrated.”
While protecting staff from unhealthy temperatures is a priority for some, others are less sympathetic. “While we don’t want people working in conditions that make them sick,” says David Harrold, southern director for the Restaurant Association, “we are concerned about the practicalities of sticking to a certain temperature level. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”