It’s Cold Inside

Do employers have responsibilities to cold workplaces?

Posted on: 19/12/2016   By: Lee Rance

I recently received an email from a client enquiring what the regulations are for working in a cold warehouse. They also wanted to know if there was a minimum temperature and whether they needed to supply warm clothing.

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It turns out that this is a bit of a grey area and there is no definitive minimum temperature in the Regulations that employers need to adhere to. Regulation 7 of The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states;

‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

So what is ‘reasonable’?

Well the HSE Approved Code of Practice and guidance for the regulations interprets ‘reasonable’ comfort as at least 16 degrees Celsius or 13 degrees if the work involves rigorous effort.

It’s not always practical to heat a large workplace to 16 degrees so measures such as supplying suitable protective clothing or local heating could be appropriate. There should also be systems of work (e.g. task rotation) to ensure the amount of time individual workers are exposed to uncomfortable temperatures is limited.

Why is it so important to keep employees comfortable?

Well there are lots of reasons. There are the moral obligations to employees to ensure they have the best working environment possible, which in turn keeps morale high, encouraging a more productive workforce. There are also the legal obligations, not just The Worklplace Regulations as mentioned above but also the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.

Employers should consult with employees or their representatives to establish sensible means to cope with extremes of temperatures.

The term ‘thermal comfort’ describes a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold. When people are dissatisfied with their thermal environment, not only is it a potential health hazard, it also impacts on their ability to function effectively. Thermal comfort cannot be defined by acceptable temperature ranges alone, you need to take into account a range of environmental, work-related and personal factors when deciding what makes a comfortable workplace temperature.

The HSE suggest that an environment can be said to achieve ‘reasonable comfort’ when at least 80% of its occupants are thermally comfortable. This means that thermal comfort can be assessed simply by surveying occupants to find out whether they are dissatisfied with their thermal environment.

People working in uncomfortably cold environments are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make decisions and/or perform manual tasks deteriorates.

Everyone has a different opinion as to what is too hot or too cold so finding the balance can sometimes be tricky.

The HSE covers Thermal Comfort in detail on their website and the ACOP and Guidance to the regulations can be found here.

If you or your company needs any advice on temperature in the workplace or any other Health and Safety matters, please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01908 632418 or drop us an email.

Until next time

Lee Rance