What should the temperature be in the workplace?

Industry News By Matthew Coombes

As an employer, you have a legal duty under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 to determine what a reasonably comfortable temperature will be for any environment that work is being carried out in.

This means a member of staff with management authority, such as the owner, duty manager or general manager should be looking at the work that is being undertaken, the environment that the work is taking place in, and the persons that will be undertaking the work, to ensure that temperature is not going to have a negative impact on the safety of the workers.

The Health and Safety Executive and Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 both do not specify a temperature which would be considered suitable. The approved code of practice “Workplace health, safety and welfare” states that a suitable temperature is around 16°C/60.8°F, but that in situations whereby this is not reasonably possible (such as refrigerated units or open-air workplaces), efforts should be made to get the temperature as close as is practical for the situation.

Everyone’s experience of heat will differ through factors such as personal preference, body fat percentage, health conditions, body hair, and even blood pressure. As such, when looking to ensure that the workplace has a comfortable temperature, consulting directly with workers is often the best course of action, even though you are not legally obligated to do so.

Extreme temperatures in the workplace

Heat

In the fabrication of glass, the glass furnace will be operating between 2,000°F/1,093.33°c and 2,400°F/1315.55°C, which will increase the temperature in nearby working environment through the heat radiated from the furnace heating the surrounding area and the air. This will then raise the temperature of the area in which employees are working, and during normal operations the environment may be uncomfortably hot.

Other factors in the environment can also impact the temperature, and weather will play a big part. With the example of the glass furnace, if you add a heatwave into this scenario then the ambient temperatures will increase, and moisture content in the air will reduce. This means that the working environment is likely to reach more extreme temperatures.

One way to reduce the temperature is to increase the cool air ventilation throughout the working environment. However, in some situations, ventilation is not as simple as opening a door to let in fresh air and reduce the workplace heat, for example fire doors which are alarmed or must be kept shut for effective management of fire safety.

Are workers in direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time? Do they have access to water/hydration if they are working in a hot environment? Are staff aware of the signs and risks of dehydration?

Cold

You may think of extreme cold as being the north pole, but the reality is that you can become hypothermic if your body temperature drops below 35°c. This means spending too much time in a cold environment, or in cold water, can have serious impacts on your health.

There are even extreme colds to consider within the United Kingdom, for example the winter in Scotland has an average low of around 0°C in winter, and in 2020 temperatures in Braemar, Scotland dropped to -23°c.

As such, any workplace like a café, pub, gift shop or fire station in Braemar will need to have these extreme conditions factored into their assessment of risks to health and safety.

If your organisation has workers who drive for work, or commute to the workplace, do you have a winter contingency plan? Will workers be safe if the heating systems fail? Is there a cold water rescue plan for workers who work with or near to bodies of water?

Non-extreme temperatures

Working in temperatures that are uncomfortable can affect performance more than the cost of increasing or reducing the heat in the working environment.

Being too hot can cause headaches from dehydration, sweating (which can make clothes itchy or uncomfortable), and some individuals can begin to suffer from the effects of heat stroke in temperatures that others would not consider uncomfortable or extreme.

When you are too cold you may involuntarily shiver or your hands may become stiff and numb, this can reduce your dexterity and precision for completing tasks. Even typing in an office environment becomes more difficult when you are cold, and your performance may reduce as a direct result of the environment.


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