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Employees too hot?

Employees and employers have been asking the age-old question as the United Kingdom has sweltered recently: “What is the maximum working temperature?”

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Head straight for the legislation which, as you would expect, differs depending on whether you are in Great Britain or Northern Ireland:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 in Great Britain, and
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993

 

Although, in both pieces of legislation, it is Regulation 7 that says:

 

“During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”

 

What is reasonable, as it’s one of those words that are used legislatively but are open to much interpretation? So, the next step is to search for the guidance on the legislation, which can be found in the relevant Approved Codes of Practice on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive (Northern Ireland) (HSENI) websites. While the websites may be different, the guidance is the same:

 

“The temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius.”

 

In brief, the legislation and guidance is specific about a minimum temperature in workplaces but is not specific when it comes to a maximum. However, the guidance then points to the HSE website section that describes “thermal comfort”. This is defined as:

 

“A person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold.”

 

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and 2000 Northern Ireland equivalent, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure and manage thermal comfort in the workplace. This is all for the purposes of ensuring that employers are aware of the health and safety risks to their employees of working in temperatures that are outside their thermal comfort. Given that thermal comfort is the same UK-wide (albeit the employer obligation is covered under different pieces of legislation in Great Britain), I am taking the opportunity to point employers and employees to some health and safety guidance on the HSE website:

 

There is also a thermal comfort checklist that can be downloaded in order to carry out a comfort risk assessment. There is also a handy guide to managing workplace temperature.

 

It is important employers are aware of thermal comfort and consult with employees or their representatives to establish ways of coping with high temperatures. After all, failure to do so is against the Management Regulations.

 

Also, note that the Management Regulations applies to most workplaces so employers are not just looking at the comfort of their employees but also people that may be coming into the workplace as, say, a worker or a client. This means that the large retail store I visited yesterday should have paid more attention to the thermal comfort of its staff and customers (instead of removing the thermometers so people could not tell how hot it actually was).

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