News & Views

Responding to temperature complaints before we all get hot and bothered

BY Steven McCallum
Health & Safety
BG Orange

You may not think that this is the time of year to be considering temperature in the workplace. As most of us are enjoying the latest spell of good weather, you would be forgiven for thinking that everyone is relishing the warmer temperature. 

Most believe this issue seems to take precedence during colder months.  Not so.

It is important that employers consider aspects of temperature in the workplace all year round for various reasons.  Initially, the safety and comfort of employees is paramount but it can also have an effect on production, both positive and negative.  Therefore, when managers and supervisors begin to get the complaints stating “It’s too hot/cold (delete as appropriate) in here”, they may be left wondering what they are legally obliged to do about it.

As an employer, you have a duty to ensure the safety and comfort of your workforce and you should listen to and consider what they tell you.  Therefore, a complaint about heat (or the lack of) should be seen as an opportunity to ensure the employee is satisfied with the temperature.  Yes, in some environments, you cannot please all of the people all of the time, however simple and reasonable adjustments can be made to ensure employees are as comfortable as possible.

By considering Thermal Control techniques an employer can go some way to achieving satisfaction with temperatures in the workplace all year round.  It is advisable to consider reasonable adjustments such as:

  • Clothing
  • Working patterns
  • Breaks
  • Provision of water
  • Portable appliances (desk fans/heaters)
  • Opening/closing of windows
  • Positioning of workstations

Even if an employer has an elaborate air conditioning system that can be thermostatically controlled, they will still receive complaints about the temperature. Therefore you are advised to consider the above controls to see if a reasonable outcome can be achieved.

So what about temperatures? There is an old saying in workplaces “It can be too cold but it can never be too hot” and in some ways this is correct.  HSE guidance suggests a reasonable minimum working temperature in workrooms – usually at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work (unless other laws require lower temperatures) – however no guidance is set for a maximum temperature.  It is then up to the employer to assess the temperature and implement those reasonable adjustments, if required.

As an employer, before you groan at the sight of a temperature-related complaint, remember you do have a legal duty to respond and applying simple controls will help you to handle those concerns. 

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