Employers have a legal duty to ensure that working environments are a ‘reasonable temperature’.
What is a reasonable working temperature?
The law does not state specific temperatures that are considered reasonable. You must determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.
Best practice dictates the working environment should usually be at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work (unless other laws require lower temperatures). There is no advice for specific limits on high temperatures.
Thermal comfort at work
The temperature of the working environment affects workers’ comfort and safety. This should form part of your health and safety risk assessment.
A person suffering from heat stress may experience muscle cramps, lack of concentration and severe thirst. This can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
In cold environments, employees may lose concentration or take short cuts. Cold temperatures can lead to frostbite and hypothermia.
You must take steps to control the risks of extreme temperatures. This could involve providing personal protective equipment or redesigning tasks.
Working in hot conditions
Employers must ensure that staff have access drinking water. In hot conditions, employees may need to drink more water than usual – you should encourage this. You must also ensure the working environment has adequate ventilation.
Consider the following measures to help your staff stay comfortable in hot conditions:
- supply cold drinks
- relax dress codes so employees can wear cooler clothing
- provide air conditioning or fans
- allow employees to work in the shade
- reschedule strenuous work
- provide adequate breaks to let employees cool down and drink water
If your staff work outside they may be at particular risk of certain hazards in hot weather. Consider shade, rest break and sun safety. Wearing a hat, suitable clothing and sunscreen can help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) damage. See health and safety risks for people working outdoors.
Working in cold conditions
The steps you can take to ensure thermal comfort when working in the cold include:
- provide adequate workplace heating, eg portable heaters
- reduce draughts
- provide insulating floor coverings or special footwear when employees have to stand for long periods on cold floors
- provide protective clothing for cold environments
- provide enough breaks to allow employees to get hot drinks or to warm up in heated areas