Safe working temperatures are important in any workplace. Low temperatures, for instance, can be uncomfortable. A cold atmosphere creates dissatisfaction and complaints. Few people can focus properly on their work when they’re trying to stay warm.
Furthermore, in a cold workplace, staff may put on jumpers and jackets. In a shop, these may not fit with a retailer’s brand image. And in an office, heavy clothing can restrict movement when using computers.
At the other end of the scale, excess heat can cause drowsiness. This in turn may lead to sloppy or unfinished work. High temperatures cause Heat Stress and other health problems.
The minimum safe working temperatures recommended by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are 13ºC and 16ºC.
The first of these applies to a workplace where there is physical activity. 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.
Despite the difficulties associated with hot working environments, there is no legal maximum safe working temperature. 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.
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.
Other common medical conditions associated with working in overheated workplaces include asthma, throat infections, and rhinitis.
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.
Controlling High 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 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.
Last Updated on 25 May 2021