Too hot or too cold at work? Surely you can’t be expected to work in extremes of temperature in winter and summer? Many workers are unaware of what the legal maximum working temperatures might be in their workplace.
In recent years, UK employees have been having to contend with increasingly extreme temperature ranges in the work environment. Summer heatwaves and winter cold snaps create difficult working conditions.
Our guide looks at the legal working temperatures in the UK, and gives an overview of which laws apply to the legal temperature at work.
Legal Temperature to Work in the UK
The law on legal workplace temperatures is vague, and is dealt with under the Health Safety & Welfare Regulations (1992).
Regulation 7 of this law states:-
“During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.” See: Regulation 7.
However, this vague definition of safe working temperatures does not mean that employers have no legal responsibilities when a workplace becomes too hot or too cold. The definition is left open to interpretation due to the varying natures of workplaces.
A reasonable temperature in an environment with industrial ovens, such as a bakery, would be different to that in an office.
What Temperature is Too Hot to Work?
Despite the difficulties associated with hot working environments, there is no legal maximum safe working temperature in the UK. Employers are required to make sure work temperatures inside buildings are “reasonable”.
However, there are legal requirements which employers must meet:-
1. Conducting Risk Assessments
The Health & Safety at Work Regulations (1999) says “Every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of— (a) the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work” See Regulation 3.
Extremes of temperature can be considered a risk to employee health.
2. Maintaining Reasonable Workplace Temperatures
If your workplace is subject to very hot temperatures, then the hazard should be identified in your workplace risk assessment. Steps should then be taken to ensure the temperature remains at a comfortable level to protect employee health.
HSE Guidance on thermal comfort outlines the ways in which assessments can be made to determine if workplace temperatures are reasonable, or if there’s a risk of heat stress or other heat related health issues.
What to Do if Your Workplace Temperature is Too Hot
If your workplace temperature is too hot, in the first instance you should raise the situation with your employer or union rep.
A comfortable workplace temperature is important for productivity. Your employer should be aware of their duty of care for you at work, and make accommodations to ensure you are safe at work.
Health Effects of High Temperatures at Work
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has gathered many examples of the effect of high temperatures. During hot summers, for example, employees are more prone to trip or slip. And those staff that work with computers often suffer from stress, tension and tiredness. It’s never ideal for your staff to suffer from heat stress in the workplace.
For manual workers, the effects of working in hot conditions are just as bad. The TUC has reports of fainting, dizziness and cramps. For some workers, the heat also places a dangerous burden on lungs and hearts. In extreme temperatures workers can become very unwell due to the effects of heat.
Other common medical conditions associated with working in overheated workplaces include asthma, throat infections, and rhinitis. In hot countries such as Australia there have been well documented cases of workers dying on the job due to the effects of heat in their work environment.
Recommendations for the UK
In the absence of a legal ruling, the TUC has recommended maximum safe working temperatures. These are 27ºC for manual workers, and 30ºC for sedentary workers.
If you are an employer it is important to consider the welfare of your employees. If you take reasonable steps to provide a reasonable safe workplace temperature your employees will be more productive.
Controlling High Workplace Temperatures
In an office, employers may be able to keep the maximum temperature below 30ºC. They can do this with suitable ventilation and shades.
Suitable ventilation can take the form of air conditioning, open windows and fans. These measures can help to keep the air fresh. Stuffy air interferes with workers’ concentration, and can raise the temperature to uncomfortable levels.
If employers use air conditioning, they need to ensure that engineers regularly service and maintain the systems. Badly functioning air conditioning has led to examples of increased rather than lower temperatures.
Employers can also make staff more comfortable by allowing a sensible dress code and by ensuring there are regular breaks for cooling drinks.
Controlling safe working temperatures for people doing manual work outdoors in the heat is more difficult. The TUC suggests that such workers have regular breaks and drink a lot of water. It also proposes that management arranges for workers to rotate to jobs in shaded areas whenever possible.
Legal Minimum Working Temperatures UK
The minimum working temperatures recommended by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are 13ºC and 16ºC.
Can you legally go home if your workplace falls below this level? Sadly not. This will be up to your employer to determine. It is very unfortunate that the law in this area is vague. The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 simply place an obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” workplace temperature.
See Also: Working in cold temperatures UK – a guide on the law, and employer’s duty of care in different working environments.
Minimum Working Temperatures – an Overview
- In a workplace where there is physical activity the minimum safe working temperature is 13ºC. Such activity could be loading and stacking in a warehouse, or mobile work in a factory.
- A minimum temperature of 16ºC applies to a sedentary workplace. This could be an office environment, a call centre or a public reception area. It also applies to factories where light work is carried out.
Minimum Office Temperatures in the UK
The minimum office temperature in the UK is 16ºC. UK workplace health and safety law suggests this as the lowest temperature suitable for office work. However, if the temperature in your office drops below 16ºC this does not mean you can go home. Despite a minimum working temperature being set down in law, the legislation is vague. It simply places an obligation on employers to make sure the temperature is “reasonable”.
If Your Office is Too Cold
If your office is too cold, it’s best to raise the issue with management and ask that they take steps to make the workplace more comfortable.
Despite the law not offering the ability for workers to leave due to low temperatures, employers do still have a duty of care to ensure your health and wellbeing at work. A cold office reduces productivity a lot. It’s in your employer’s best interests to have a warm environment for working.
In a situation where pipes are frozen, this may be grounds for an office to close. HSE rules say that workplaces must provide access to a toilet, hand washing facilities and drinking water.
Minimum Warehouse & Factory Temperatures
Health and safety law suggests that the minimum working temperature in warehouses and factories should be 13 ºC . However, this does not mean that a workplace must close if the temperature falls below that level. The law is quite vague and simply suggests that employers need to ensure a “reasonable” temperature.
That said, cold working temperatures should be factored into risk assessments. The effects of cold stress on workplace safety should be looked at when deciding if the workplace is safe to continue work activity. Many employers will issue equipment such as warm and safe uniforms after conducting a risk assessment.
Controlling Low Workplace Temperatures
In an office or shop, the obvious way to maintain the minimum safe working temperature is by using heaters.
For outdoor manual workers, employers should supply adequate warm clothing. Manual workers should also have frequent hot drinks.
- The TUC viewpoint on the case for maximum safe temperatures in the UK workplace.
- The UK health and safety executive guidelines regarding safe temperatures in the workplace.