Know your workplace rights in cold weather

12 Dec 2017

As the snow and ice hits PCS members across the UK you should ensure you know your rights about working in low temperatures.

PCS has guidance on workplace temperatures with health and safety regulations stating that the temperature of all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable, with a recommended minimum of 16°C or 13°C if employees are doing physical work.

Your employer must provide enough thermometers for you to measure the temperature. If you are required to work outside, then winter clothing is classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) and should be provided wherever there is a risk.

However, guidance produced by the Health and Safety Executive makes it clear that, even at 16° the workplace temperature may still not be 'reasonable'. Thermal comfort is dependent on more than just temperature: air movement and humidity are also important factors. In draughty conditions, people feel colder than they would at the same temperature with no significant draught.

Similarly, people can tolerate higher temperatures in a room with good air movement than in a still and humid atmosphere.

Preventing or alleviating the worst effects

When temperatures are uncomfortably low, managers should be looking to alleviate the worst effects:

  • by allowing breaks for people to get hot drinks, or to permit them to warm up
  • by providing additional heating
  • by allowing anyone with particular health concerns to leave the workplace, either to go home or to move to another workplace which does have a reasonable temperature
  • by relaxing dress code requirements where appropriate.

It may also be possible to relax hours of attendance/flexible working hours rules, where opening hours for public access are not a critical issue, to allow people to start work earlier in the day, take longer lunch breaks and/or finish earlier.

Home working might be a possibility in certain cases – though home temperatures may be no more acceptable than those in the workplace

The laws on temperature can be found in the legal summary of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

If you cannot negotiate a suitable solution, contact your PCS branch, regional centre or headquarters officers as appropriate.

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