Head of operations at Office Genie Peter Ames advises employers how to keep cool in the heat
We’re on the brink of a heatwave and the legal obligations for workplace temperatures are opaque. It makes very little sense to me.
At the bottom end of the scale, employers are obliged to take action in most workplaces when the temperature dips below 16°C but there’s no similar figure for high temperatures.
This could well be putting the health of millions workers at risk.
The TUC has been campaigning for years that a guideline maximum temperature should be between 27-30°C and this is something I wholeheartedly support.
Other factors also play their part; for example some workplaces do not allow employees to open windows, ironically often due to health and safety regulations.
If there’s no air conditioning then you’re going to face a hugely uncomfortable, working environment when the temperatures rise.
In 2015, when employee wellness is rightly a massive concern for business across the world, it seems bizarre the regulations regarding maximum workplace temperature are so vague.
Below is a guide to existing regulations and what employers should be aware of:
Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state an indoor workplace should be a minimum of 16°C, or 13°C if work involves considerable physical exercise Regulation 7: “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”
Associated Approved Code of Practice:
“The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. Where such a temperature is impractical because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable.”
There is no guideline temperature at the top end.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE): “an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F)” HSE: “A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale. This is because the factors, other than air temperature which determine thermal comfort.”
Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: Employers are obliged to assess risks to health and safety – act where necessary (i.e. if the workplace drops below the minimum guideline or if it is felt the temperature is too high)
When to act
Employers are advised that a thermal risk assessment may be necessary in the following circumstances:
Air conditioned offices: If more than 10% of employees are complaining
Naturally ventilated offices: If more than 15% of employees are complaining
Retail businesses, warehouses, factories and all other indoor environments that may not have air conditioning: When more than 20% of people complain
Steps to take
If the thermal risk assessment shows heat to be a risk to health and safety in the workplace, the following steps are advised by HSE:
- Control temperature using fans or air conditioning
- Provide mechanical aids to reduce employee work rate
- Prevent exposure through:Allowing workers into the workplace in cooler parts of the day Issue permits to specify how long workers spend in high-risk situations
- Provide rest breaks
- Ensure rest areas provide cooler conditions
- Prevent dehydration by supplying access to cold water
- Relax dress codes to increase employee comfort
- Provide specialised personal protective equipment designed for comfort in hot conditions
All employers are also advised the following steps are good practice in creating a low-risk workplace:
- Insulate hot water pipes
- Provide air conditioning and fans, specifically in hot weather
- Ensure all windows can be opened Keep workstations out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat
- Identify employees at greatest risk Train workers to be able to identify symptoms of heat stress and appropriate solutions
- Provide sufficient thermometers to evaluate temperature throughout the workplace