Majority of UK workplaces not equipped for extreme heat

28 July 2022 3 min. read

With temperatures reaching record highs, new research has shown that fewer than half of commercial properties in the UK have an energy efficiency rating which could help cope with heat waves. If offices are not adapted, it could compromise worker safety – and prompt a further exodus from commercial properties, potentially compounding the impacts of hybridised working which are already biting landlords.

The UK recently sweated through its worst recorded case of extreme heat – with parts of the country reporting 40C temperatures for the first time. In the wake of the heat wave in July, experts have predicted that around 1,000 people may have died – and while this kind of heat wave was once an anomaly, Britain may not have to wait long for a second taste of a 40C crisis.

According to a long-term outlook from the UK MET Office, the UK could already be on course for a second 40C day in the early part of August. While that is by no means certain, meanwhile, climate scientists have long been warning that this kind of climate event will become a common aspect of British summer, if more action is not taken to decarbonise the global economy.

Percentage of commercial buildings with an Energy Performance Certificate grade above C+

At the same time, the UK’s infrastructure will need updating if it is to adapt to more regular extreme heat. At present, while the UK Government website suggests “the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be reasonable”, it also admits there is “no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures, e.g. when it's too cold or too hot to work.” This is likely to cause growing concern as temperatures continue to rise, though, as many of the UK’s offices are presently not equipped for heat waves.

According to a new report from property inspection and operations software platform Property Inspect, 60% of commercial properties in the UK hold an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) with a rating of D or below. This places them at a lower level of energy efficiency by the Government’s standards – even though they are within legal bounds.

This is significant in the heat as features like insulation work to regulate heat transfer, meaning buildings stay cool in summer and warm in winter. With so many buildings not fit for the hot weather, workers across the country could suffer if they're expected to stay in the office. The situation was found to be worst in the West Midlands, where only 37.98% of buildings were high-performing. Even in the best performing region of the East of England, meanwhile, only 48.8% of properties had a C or above rating.

Warrick Swift, Commercial Director of Property Inspect, commented, "Heatwaves are becoming increasingly common in the summer and temperatures are reaching never-before-seen highs across the country. Business owners and investors need to put in the work to improve the quality of their properties or risk affecting workers' safety. With so many businesses now using a hybrid model, issues like this could have an even greater impact on how often commercial buildings like offices are used, further jeopardising investors' profits.”