With more snow forecast in the coming weeks, it seems an appropriate time to consider temperature in the workplace and the responsibilities of employers to provide a comfortable work environment for their employees.
Under the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations, employers are under an obligation to provide a 'reasonable' working temperature. But what exactly is a reasonable working temperature?
Unfortunately, the regulations do not set out any strict minimum or maximum temperatures, because draughts, humidity and other factors can have a big impact on how cold the workplace actually feels.
Guidelines suggest workplaces should be around 16°C at least (or 13°C where the work is mostly physical). Of course, it may be a requirement of certain businesses to maintain lower temperatures (for food production for example), which is fine, but even in these circumstances employers should consider taking some of the steps below to make employees more comfortable.
The first step to ensure a comfortable workplace is proper monitoring. This could include taking a note of temperature readings regularly, but more effective is simply listening to employees and provide them with the opportunity to raise any concerns. If employees are complaining about the temperature, or reporting illnesses which may be caused by cold, you should review the situation and take action. If you have employees who may be particularly sensitive to the cold - for example if pregnant or ill - then additional care should be taken to ensure their comfort.
If there is a problem maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the work space, for example due to heating breaking down, scheduled maintenance or the size of building, there are other ways to minimise risk, for example by providing portable heaters, reducing draughts, or simply giving additional breaks to allow employees to warm up with a cuppa.
If your work often involves particular exposure to cold temperatures - for example if you have a cold storage or outdoor work - further precautions should be taken: consider providing protective clothing and introducing flexible working patterns to cut the time each employee is exposed to the cold.
Roll on Spring!