Jan 12, 2017

Freezing office? What is the minimum workplace temperature?

(Updated 12/01/2017)

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.

Snow Joke: Advice from Office Genie's HR director Sarah Sutton

But what if you can't make it in to the office in the first place? HR Director at Genie, Sarah Sutton, explains the legal issues around working on a snow day:

"Employees have a responsibility to carry out their working day in the most practical fashion. If they are unable to travel safely into the office then the next most sensible option is generally a day working remotely.

"If this too is impractical, then employers should have an inclement weather policy in place to provide answers in this situation. 

"Suitable alternatives to work could be either paid or unpaid leave, or giving an employee the option to make up the time. Indeed, even if some time is missed due to a delayed train or a prolonged journey - the onus remains on the employee to make this time up - although I would expect an employer to use judgement and act reasonably in this situation.

"Employers priorities should be to ensure clarity, and most importantly safety, for their employees.

"Ultimately, employers are liable for the safety of their employees. If they do fail to protect them from hazardous conditions in the workplace, they are at risk of serious legal act."

Updated: 12th January 2017 (Original post: 30th November 2012)

Comments

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: http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/concerns.htm 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: http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/concerns.htm 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

Avi Posted on January 16, 2017

Hi, I work for one of the big brand and work in shopping centre kiosks or stand. My job is to talk to passing by people inside the shopping mall and sell the benefits or sell the services which involves constantly speaking and writing. My work place is situated in such location inside the shopping mall where I am exposed to cold air, there is no door , no protection and unfortunately no heaters either. The shopping centre location is like a tunnel and its a perfect wind trap. I have complained since October 2016 however no actions has been taken. When its windy it is inhuman condition to work. Sometimes even I barely speak because of cold.I already have flu, shoulder and back pain, headaches as well as my other colleagues. I am afraid by end of this winter it will be even worse. Can you please advise?

Genie team Posted on January 17, 2017

Hi Avi, Thanks for your question. Unfortunately we aren't able to give you specific advice on the matter above and beyond what you can read above. However, as with the above queries, we recommend you contact the government's HSE: http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/concerns.htm We hope this helps! All the best of luck, Office Genie

Michael fenton Posted on February 06, 2017

Hi I work in a warehouse where the overhead heaters are broken and have been for weeks now I have spoken to our safety officer and he says they are not getting the heating fixed as it's not in a working area but me and 6 colleagues work within this area all day every day the temperature during winter is freezing not sure about the exact temp as the thermometers are broken but it's got to be close on boarder line temp or below what advice can you give please

B Posted on February 24, 2017

I work for a large retailer who do not have any heating throughout the building the shop also doesn't have any fire alarms that work or fire extinguishers in the shop that work also.

Genie team Posted on February 27, 2017

Hi both, As with the above queries we cannot advise on individual cases. However we do recommend, as above, you consult HSE http://www.hse.gov.uk/contact/concerns.htm They should be able to offer you the guidance you need. Best of luck, the Office Genie team.

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