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Dec 13

Jane Patching

Unbearably cold office? Your legal duties explained


Winter is truly upon us and as temperatures drop, some employees are spending their days in uncomfortably cold workplaces. For employers, this is a vital issue that needs to be addressed. While heating can be costly, the price of not meeting your legal duties when it comes to workplace temperature could be higher.

In 2010 a retailer was fined £2,000 plus costs by Carlisle County Council for providing insufficient heating in the workplace, despite an improvement notice having been issued under Section 21 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The Council received numerous complaints about the working conditions, following which a visiting inspector discovered temperatures of as low as 7.6 degrees and issued the improvement notice. Despite this, subsequent visits by the inspector found that temperatures were still failing to reach the required 16 degrees, which resulted in the charges to which the retailer pleaded guilty.

What the law says

Temperatures in the indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace.

The Approved Code of Practice[1] suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.

In addition to the Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.

The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations.

The benefits of thermal comfort

Getting the temperature right in the office can be tricky, especially when everyone has different opinions on what is too hot or too cold! But there are numerous benefits of managing thermal comfort as well as the health and safety improvements. For example, the HSE says, you are likely to improve morale and productivity, while people working in uncomfortably cold environments are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make decisions and/or perform tasks deteriorates.

Freezing office: what to do

You can assess whether your office is too cold by carrying out a Thermal Comfort Risk Assessment. If your workplace temperature drops below what is considered ‘reasonable’, you are required by law to take extra measures to raise that temperature.

The HSE advises that you can help ensure thermal comfort during cold periods 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; and
  • providing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get hot drinks or to warm up in heated areas.

The HSE’s Thermal Comfort Microsite provides detailed information about temperature in the workplace.

Blog produced by Office Genie


Jane Patching

Health and Safety Trainer at International Workplace

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