The lack of guidelines around what constitute unacceptably high temperatures in workspaces could potentially put workers at risk during periods of extreme heat, according to Office Genie head of operations Peter Ames.
Referencing the current heatwave, with temperatures tipped to hit 34C tomorrow, Ames warned that the “legal obligations for workplace temperatures are opaque”.
“It makes very little sense to me,” he said. “At the bottom end of the scale, employers are obliged to take action in most workplaces when the temperature dips below 16⁰C but there’s no similar figure for high temperatures.”
Ames warned that this lack of clarity could be putting the health of workers at risk as there are employers and employees alike struggle to work out the letter of the law.
“The TUC has been campaigning for years that a guideline maximum temperature should be between 27-30⁰C and this is something I wholeheartedly support,” he continued.
“Other factors also play their part; for example some workplaces do not allow employees to open windows, ironically often due to health and safety regulations – if there’s no air conditioning then you’re going to face a hugely uncomfortable working environment when the temperatures rise.”
Office Genie’s guide to regulations and recommended actions:
- Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state an indoor workplace should be a minimum of 16⁰C, or 13⁰C if work involves considerable physical exercise
- Regulation 7: “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”
- Associated Approved Code of Practice: “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.”
- There is no guideline temperature given at the top end
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE): “an acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies roughly between 13°C (56°F) and 30°C (86°F)”
- HSE: “A meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale. This is because the factors, other than air temperature which determine thermal comfort.”
- Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999: Employers are obliged to assess risks to health and safety – act where necessary (i.e. if the workplace drops below the minimum guideline or if it is felt the temperature is too high)
Further reading: Techniques to promote health and wellness in the workplace