Managing workplace temperature

In this article, Health and Safety expert, Adam Williams discusses workplace temperature and offers advice to employers on how to manage hot and cold temperatures within the workplace.

The issue of workplace temperatures has been raised several times recently and there still seems to be some misunderstanding surrounding this. Employees believe they can refuse to work or in some cases can go home because temperatures are below or above the “legal” levels. There are no set legal limits. However, employers have a responsibility to ensure they do everything which is reasonably practicable to ensure the workplace temperatures are at a reasonable level.

Responsibility as an employer under Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, can be a challenge when it comes to managing the temperature in your workplace for the ‘thermal comfort’ of your employees. Thermal comfort describes a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold. How you manage the effects of the temperature of your workplace depends on whether it is indoors or outdoors and the normal operating temperature of that environment.

Indoor Workplaces

You should provide:

  • A reasonable working temperature in workrooms is at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work (unless other laws require lower temperatures)
  • Local heating or cooling (i.e., making the best use of fans, opening windows, using radiators) where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom (e.g., hot and cold manufacturing processes)
  • Thermal clothing and rest facilities where necessary, e.g., for ‘hot work’ or cold stores
  • Heating systems which do not give off dangerous or offensive levels of fumes into the workplace
  • Sufficient space in work areas where practicable

When people are too hot

You can help ensure thermal comfort in warm conditions by:

  • Providing fans, e.g., desk, pedestal, or ceiling-mounted fans
  • Ensuring that windows are open if possible
  • Shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds or using reflective film on windows to reduce the heating effects of the sun
  • Positioning workstations away from direct sunlight or other situations or objects that radiate heat (e.g., plant or machinery)
  • Relaxing formal dress code – but you must ensure that personal protective equipment is provided and used if required
  • Allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or cool down
  • Providing additional facilities, e.g., cold water dispensers (water is preferable to caffeine or carbonated drinks)
  • Introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, e.g., flexible working patterns, job rotation, workstation rotation etc
  • Placing insulating materials around hot plants and pipes
  • Providing an air-cooling or air-conditioning plant

When people are too cold

You can help ensure thermal comfort when working in the cold by:

  • Providing adequate workplace heating, e.g., portable heaters
  • Reducing cold exposure by designing processes that minimise exposure to cold areas and cold products where possible
  • Reducing draughts
  • Providing insulating floor coverings or special footwear when employees have to stand for long periods on cold floors
  • Providing appropriate protective clothing for cold environments
  • Introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, e.g., flexible working patterns, job rotation
  • Providing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get hot drinks or to warm up in heated areas

PPE and thermal comfort

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is considered to be a ‘last resort’ to protect employees from hazards in the workplace (PPE Regulations 1992).

PPE reduces the body’s ability to evaporate sweat. Additionally, if the PPE is cumbersome or heavy it may contribute to an increase in the heat being generated inside the body.

Wearing PPE in warm/hot environments and/or with high work rates may increase the risk of heat stress.

Removal of PPE after exposure (and where necessary allowing it to dry out or replace with dry PPE before permitting re-entry) will prevent any heat retained in the clothing from continuing to heat the employee.

PPE may prevent the wearer from adapting to their environment by removing clothing because to do so would expose them to the hazard that the PPE is intended to protect them from. Ensure that people wear their PPE correctly (e.g., they do not undo fasteners to increase air movement into the garment) and thereby expose themselves to the primary hazard.

Very high or low workplace temperatures

You may require specific advice for your workplace if you are working in very high or low temperatures, for example on heat stress, dehydration, or cold stress.

If thermal discomfort is a risk, and your employees are complaining and/or reporting illnesses that may be caused by the thermal environment, then you should review the situation and if necessary, implement appropriate controls to manage the risks:

  • You may need to monitor thermal conditions and where possible, record as part of your risk management programme
  • Health surveillance or medical screening may be required for staff who have special requirements due to pregnancy, certain illnesses, disabilities and/or maybe taking medication. This is particularly relevant when working in temperature extremes. Medical advice should be sought if necessary
  • Review and (where necessary) change working habits and current practices to control the risks

Ultimately these measures can be adopted depending on the relevance to your workplace and the work activities. Like all things regarding Health and Safety, consultation with employees is essential.

To find out more information or if you require any advice regarding your workplace temperature, get in touch with our team of experts.

T: 0330 107 1037


Sign up to our newsletter