Q&A – Wearing shorts at work: never, always or sometimes safe to wear?
It is a frequently asked question as the mercury levels rise. Can shorts be worn in the workplace? Working in bare legs may be more comfortable on hot days, but is it also safe? When are long trousers mandatory and who is liable if something goes wrong?
The safety of your employees is paramount even in tropical temperatures. You cannot simply ignore rules relating to safety, health and hygiene. However, these rules vary according to the job your employee is doing. For example, employees working in bare legs are at a greater risk in some sectors than in others. Examples of these are garbage collectors, welders or construction workers.
When are long trousers always mandatory?
In certain sectors, long trousers are part of personal protective equipment (PPE). This applies to the hospitality, healthcare and construction sectors. In such case, the statutory (clothing) regulations must be complied with, in which case shorts can definitely not be worn.
When are long trousers sometimes mandatory?
As an employer in a sector other than the hospitality, healthcare or construction sectors, you are free to determine the risks that justify the use of a PPE. This determination is based on a risk analysis.
You then take preventive measures to ensure that your employees can work under the most ideal conditions. In doing so, you try to:
- prevent risks
- evaluate risks that you cannot prevent
- control risks at source
- replace dangerous situations with less dangerous alternatives
- reduce the risk of serious injury through material measures
How do you assess the risk?
Although working in shorts and/or with a bare torso may seem more comfortable at first glance in the summer, this may actually increase the health risks for your employees. Whether wearing shorts is allowed or not depends on the occupational risks. In this assessment, you will take into account:
- the exposure to chemical, biological and carcinogenic substances
- the use of hot materials or working in proximity to such materials
- working in hot conditions (e.g. ovens, outside the worksite or in areas without air conditioning)
- the proximity of sharp materials or incandescent substances
If one of these risks is present, you must assess whether wearing shorts could lead to a (serious) injury in case of an accident at work:
- is there no increase in the risk of injury?
You may allow shorts in such cases.
- is there an increase in the risk of injury?
The wearing of shorts must be prohibited in such cases. In such cases, long trousers are a PPE that among other things protects your employees against sunlight, heat, cuts and abrasions, or splashing chemical products.
If necessary, you can change the composition of your work clothes during the summer months. For example, cotton trousers are less thick, lighter and airier. As long as safety prevails over comfort
Who is liable in case of an accident at work caused by wearing shorts?
Was there a situation in which wearing protective clothing was mandatory, but you as an employer ignored this requirement? If so, you are liable for injuries that could have been prevented had your employee been wearing the right clothing. However, this shall not apply if you had mandatory clothing regulations in place but your employee wilfully ignored them.