Safe working temperatures are important in any workplace. Many workers are unaware of what the legal maximum & minimum working temperatures might be in their workplace. Very low temperatures or very high temperatures at work can both cause discomfort and reduced productivity.
Safe Working Temperatures
It’s important to understand what safe working temperatures should be stuck to in the workplace. Here’s our quick guide to ensuring the health and safety of all staff in the workplace during extremes of heat and cold.
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, but the law in this area is relatively vague. The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 simply place an obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” workplace temperature.
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.
Legal Maximum Working Temperatures
Despite the difficulties associated with hot working environments, there is no legal maximum safe working temperature in the UK. The only requirement is that workplace temperatures in buildings should be reasonable. This condition appears in the Workplace Regulations 1992.
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.
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.