Whilst most of the UK is enjoying the current heatwave, the increased temperatures have led some employers and employees to question whether there is a legal maximum workplace temperature.
Do workplace temperatures matter?
Whilst workplace temperatures may not result in injuries in the way that some hazards such as machinery could, there are many reasons for an employer to take into account the temperatures in which employees are required to work.
First of all they need to comply with requirements in legislation. For example, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that workplace temperatures in indoors workplaces “shall be reasonable” during working hours. These regulations also place an obligation on employers to ensure drinking water is readily available to all employees.
Secondly, they need to consider the effect that thermal comfort can have on employees’ welfare and work performance. For example, some dehydration can result in reduced concentration or discomfort could lead to employees becoming distracted from their work.
Thirdly, where employees are required to work in extreme in temperatures, they are vulnerable to health conditions such as hypothermia, heat exhaustion and heatstroke and may be more susceptible to developing other issues such as those linked to poor circulation.
Whilst there are no legal maximum and minimum temperatures, it is generally accepted that the minimum workplace temperature should be at least 16°C, or 13°C where work involves a lot of physical effort.
With regards to maximum temperatures, there are no set temperatures stated, however employers need to consider the thermal comfort of workers. It is recommended that they consult with employees to determine what a “reasonable” temperature would be.
If a lot of employees are complaining about the temperature being too high and for workplaces where employees are working in very low or very high temperatures, an employer should conduct a risk assessment to determine appropriate controls. For example, if employees are required to wear a lot of PPE which could add to thermal discomfort, are there alternative ways of protecting them which would mean they could wear less PPE? Do additional breaks need to be allowed to allow employees the opportunity to cool down or warm up in an area away form the high or low temperature?
More information and guidance regarding workplace temperature can b found on the Health and Safety Executive’s temperature pages.