As the next cold snap looms, we're looking at the tricky topic of temperatures in the workplace – and the impacts that extreme spells of hot and cold can have on employees.
Before we look at the challenge of cold workplaces, it's worth noting that MPs recently rejected requests to create a law to define a maximum workplace temperature for British companies. Their formal rejection was in response to a report suggesting that heat-related deaths may treble by 2050.
Beyond the threat to lives, ministers report that productivity declines during heatwaves: "In 2010, approximately five million staff days were lost due to overheating above 26°C resulting in economic losses of £770 million."
Despite recognising the serious threat from a warming climate, ministers argued that the existing statute already provides protection for employees. Specifically, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 create an obligation for employers to provide a reasonable temperature in the workplace. Guidance for employers also encourages them to take a common-sense approach to things like relaxing dress codes, alternating work, providing more breaks, and ensuring employees always have access to cool drinking water.
Although there is no legal limit on workplace temperatures, the guidelines do state that the typical workplace should be at least 16°, or 13° if the work involves lots of physical activity.
Health conditions and extreme temperatures
There are some serious health conditions that can be caused by working in extreme temperatures, including:
- Heat exhaustion
- Cold exposure
- Frost bite
Some health conditions and medical issues can be aggravated by working in extreme temperatures:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Thyroid conditions
- Skin cancer
Employees should be encouraged to mention any existing health conditions that may make them susceptible to extreme temperatures.
Your workplace policy on extreme temperatures
Given that heatwaves are predicted to be more common by 2040, it makes sense to think about how your company cares for employees during the hottest days of summer – and the extreme dips in temperature during the winter months.
Where possible, employees should be encouraged to use a range of simple measures to remain comfortable.
Dress codes – when possible, give people the flexibility to add or remove layers so that they can work comfortably.
Breaks – during hot spells, your colleagues may need more breaks, or just a chance to get out of the sun.
Protective clothing – are your colleagues given gloves or hats for winter wear? Or perhaps people need hats to shield them from the summer sun.
Changes to work – if your workplace has some unavoidably hot or cold areas, can you rotate colleagues to give people respite?
Health and safety eLearning from DeltaNet
Want to know more about protecting your employees during extreme weather? Our suite of health and safety eLearning solutions includes courses on personal safety, risk assessments and working safely. You can either choose our eLearning courses as off-the-shelf packages, or we can tailor the content to suit your organisation. And because eLearning can be delivered conveniently at your own offices, using your existing PCs, it's easy to keep your colleagues updated with the latest health and safety information.