Nov 29, 2016

Freezing office? What is the minimum workplace temperature?

(Updated 29/11/2016)

With many people waking up to the coldest day of the winter so far, workers across the country could be faced with the prospect of heading in to a freezing workplace. Indeed, office temperature is a critical issue for employers and employees alike. So what exactly are the legal issues surrounding an uncomfortably cold workplace?

The Basics

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations of 1992, state that ‘[d]uring working hours,the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

This relates to a minimum workplace temperature 16°C, or 13°C if you are doing work that requires extreme physical effort. However, these figures are guidelines rather than legal limits and also do not take into account the nature of the workplace (i.e. different levels would apply for bakeries, cold stores and warehouses).

The regulations state: ‘The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing.’

‘Where such a temperature is impractical because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable.’

What if workplace temperature falls below these levels?

Speaking during the 2010 cold-snap John McClean, GMB National Health and Safety Officer, reminded businesses what to do if temperatures dip below advised levels, and thermal comfort levels suffer significantly.

He said: “If the temperature drops below these levels the employer is obliged by law to bring in additional heaters to raise temperatures to the legal minimum requirements.

“Those exposed to risks of falls in slippery conditions may need to be redeployed to suitable alternative work if gritting cannot be done or if the ice cannot be removed.”

Measures to improve thermal comfort

If the cold weather really begins to bite, the HSE recommend the following measures to prevent thermal discomfort in a cold workplace:

  • Reduce cold exposure by minimising processes that involve spending time in cold areas.
  • Provide adequate heating, including extra heaters if required.
  • Provide suitable protective equipment to deal with harsh temperatures.
  • Reduce draughts.
  • Introduce alternative working patterns such as flexible working to minimise employee exposure to a cold workplace.
  • Provide enough breaks for workers to make hot drinks and/or spend time in heated areas.
  • Provide appropriate insulating floor covering or protective footwear if employees are expected to stand for extended periods of time.

Another good way to adapt to falling workplace temperatures is to be prepared. It is advisable that employers conduct a thorough risk assessment regarding the effects of extreme temperatures in their workplace.

Don’t get caught out

In 2010 Carlisle County Council handed a fine of £2000 plus costs to a retailer who failed to comply with an improvement notice that requested they improve inadequate heating in their workplace.

After receiving several complaints, an inspector visited the premises and recorded temperatures that were as low as 7.6 degrees. Upon subsequent visits temperatures of lower than 16 degrees were recorded on both occasions, in spite of an improvement notice issued under Section 21 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This lead to the charges to which they pleaded guilty.

Don’t get caught out in your office; you can read more about thermal comfort in the workplace, and all the legal issues surrounding it, at the HSE’s Thermal Comfort Microsite.

Updated: 14th January 2016 (Original post: 30th November 2012)


Alison Posted on February 21, 2016

Our workplace has had faulty heating now since Christmas week (2015) due to a warehouse accident hitting the water pipes. So since then we haven't had heating, bar about one week. We are aware of the temperature below 16 degrees (its gone as low as 8 degrees) but the company is ruthless and we are concerned they will sack us if we go home. How do we cover our backs so to speak, and inform them we won't work in the cold? Its a large retail place, even customers are complaining?

Office Genie Posted on February 22, 2016

Hi Alison, Really sorry to hear that. We'd recommend you contact HSE who are the government's regulator of workplace concerns. You can find them here: We hope this helps! Office Genie

Afshan Posted on June 09, 2016

I work in air conditioned offices and an seated near to 2/3 fans and whilst other parts of the office are pleasant where I sit is freezing. I have raised this issue last year and although the controls were set to 22 degrees and fixed so that no one could change the temperature, the area in which I sit leaves me with cold fingers and neeeding my coat and scarf. Would you advice that i take the temeperature in my area? There is also the constant whirring noise of the fan above my head and leads to loss of concentration together with the waves of cold breeze that comes from the units.

Office Posted on June 09, 2016

Hi Afsan, As with the comment above - we can't really advise on an individual case basis so we'd refer you to HSE - they regulate such matters and should be able to help. You can contact them here: We hope this helps! Office Genie We hope this helps. Best, Office Genie

David Posted on October 03, 2016

Hello, I would like to ask about workplace temperature. We are working in the open office inside huge warehouse. It's only 2 of us so complaint are not taken very seriously sometimes. We have some light physical activity during the day but 80% of our time we are sitting behind the desk. Our office is basically 2 desks put together with PC/printer etc but no walls or roof, as I said completely open office inside the warehouse. People in the warehouse do hard physical job so they don't mind much. Our management provided 2 heating element which we put under the desk. Not too bad for your legs but above is still pretty cold. In some cold days we have to put extra jacket, glows to type on keyboard and hat. Is this ok??? Can you please advise . Thank you kind Regards David

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