• International Workplace
  • 21 November 2017

Freezing workplaces: a legal refresher

It only seems like five minutes since we were talking about working environments being uncomfortably hot but now, as temperatures dramatically drop, the issue of spending days in an unbearably and potentially dangerously cold workplace is once again being debated across the media.

So, here’s a little reminder for you on your legal duties to provide a thermally comfortable work environment.

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 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

There are numerous benefits of managing thermal comfort. 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.

Assessing workplace temperature

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.