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Temperatures in the Workplace

The recent cold weather has led to some queries regarding temperatures in the workplace. This article will focus on minimum temperatures in the workplace.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 detail the requirements for the temperature in indoor workplaces. The Regulations state that during working hours the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.

Guidance states that the temperature in the workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius unless the work requires severe physical effort in which case the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. A workroom is a room where people normally work for more than short periods.

These temperatures do not apply to rooms (or parts of rooms) where it would be impractical to maintain such temperatures, such as rooms which have to be open to the outside or where food has to be kept cold. In such cases, the temperature should be as close to those mentioned above as is practical.

A thermometer must be provided so that workers can check the temperature in any workplace inside the building. The availability of a thermometer is required under the Regulations.

In general, employers should try to ensure that the temperature at the workplace is pleasant, rather than too hot or too cold. Employers should also try to ensure that the atmosphere is dry rather than damp or humid. The best that can be realistically achieved is a thermal environment which satisfies the majority of people in the workplace, or put more simply, 'reasonable comfort'.

‘Thermal Comfort’ describes a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold. A combination of environmental factors (such as humidity and sources of heat in the workplace) and personal factors (such as clothing and how physically demanding the work is) influence thermal comfort. A simple way of estimating the level of thermal comfort in the workplace is to ask the workers or their workplace representatives. If the percentage of workers dissatisfied with the thermal environment is above a certain level the employer will need to take action (the Health and Safety Executive considers 80% of occupants as a reasonable limit for the minimum number of people who should be thermally comfortable in an environment). The most commonly used indicator of thermal comfort is air temperature and while important, if considered alone, may not be an accurate indicator of thermal comfort. Air temperature should always be considered in relation to other environmental and personal factors.

There is no legal minimum outdoor working temperature so employers will have to rely on thermal risk assessments.

Further information on all aspects of health and safety at work is available from your local CAB or from the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland on their One-2-One Helpline 0800 0320 121 or by visiting their website at www.hseni.gov.uk.

Setting aside the cold temperatures, can I take this opportunity to wish all of you a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Siobhan Harding is an Information and Policy Officer with Citizens Advice