Temperatures at work

Minimum and maximum temperatures for indoor workplaces

The 1992 Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations say that employers must maintain a ‘reasonable’ temperature at all times.

It suggests that temperatures below 16° C for sedentary work and below 13° for work involving physical effort would not be reasonable. However, guidance produced by the HSE 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.

HSE guidance on measuring thermal comfort

HSE guidance on thermal comfort suggests that employers should judge thermal comfort by the reaction of staff to their environment - if a significant proportion of staff are complaining about heat or cold then there is a problem that the employer should address.

HSE's checklist is good starting point for reps to identify whether there are grounds to undertake a thermal comfort risk assessment.

You will also need to consider the likely impact on different equality groups too, such as pregnant workers, disabled workers, and so on.

Preventing or alleviating the worst effects

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

  • by allowing breaks for people to get hot or cold drinks, or to permit them to warm up or cool down
  • by providing additional heating, cooling or air movements (fans, etc.)
  • 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

Even if the temperature is clearly unreasonable, there is no legal protection from dismissal or disciplinary action if individuals walk out - unless they feel themselves to be in "serious and imminent danger". If the union rep(s) organise a walk-out, this could be classed as unofficial industrial action.

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

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

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