Turning up the heat in the workplace

Peninsula Team

June 18 2010

With the summer months approaching and a sizzling summer forecast (where have we heard that before?) we can be sure that our 24 Hour Advice Service will be ringing with regular calls regarding the maximum permitted working temperature. It happens every year, and the advice is always the same; there is no set maximum working temperature. The Health and Safety Workplace Regulations simply require that ‘during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

The Approved Code of Practice that sits alongside the regulations gives some explanation. Unless it is impractical because of hot or cold processes, it says that the temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. The Code of Practice explains that in the UK an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people lies between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F). Acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities are concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and more sedentary activities towards the higher end.

Unfortunately a temperature comfortable to one employee may not be comfortable to another. Thermal comfort, as it is known, is a psychological state of mind subject to 6 environmental and personal factors. Namely the air temperature, radiant heat, air movement, humidity, clothing and metabolic heat (the energy input to the work). As a rule of thumb, where 80% of the workforce finds the temperature comfortable or acceptable, considering there are no other obvious measures that could be taken, the HSE will not require further action.

During the occasional heat waves we experience in this country it may not always be possible to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature throughout a work room. If this is the case, local cooling should be provided, and, in extremely hot weather fans and increased ventilation may be used. If, however, excessive temperatures are a problem year on year employers should be looking towards the introduction of control measures in the longer term.

In some premises the provision of air cooling or air conditioning plants can sometimes be achieved quite quickly and at low cost. In others it will be more difficult, especially where premises are leased or shared. Simple solutions are often the most effective and include:

• providing fans, eg desk, pedestal or ceiling-mounted fans;
• ensuring that windows can be opened;
• shading employees from direct sunlight with blinds or by using reflective film on windows to reduce the heating effects of the sun;
• locating workstations away from direct sunlight or other situations or objects that that radiate heat (e.g. plant, machinery);
• providing additional facilities, e.g. cold water dispensers;
• allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get cold drinks or cool down;
• relaxing a formal dress code;
• altering the working day. Where possible, starting and finishing earlier than normal to avoid peak afternoon temperatures;
• relocating staff or workstations. Remember that some people will be more comfortable in higher temperatures than others and they may be happy to work at a workstation that another person finds too hot; and/or
• rotate jobs so that everyone has a short spell working in uncomfortable temperatures before moving on to a cooler workstation;

Finally, remember that if Personal Protective Equipment is required for a task it should not be abandoned simply because it is too hot. In cases like this other ways of maintaining the comfort of workers must be sought.

Remember our Advice Service is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. An advisor will always be available to deal with any issue on 0800 028 2420.

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