Tuesday, 27th September, 2016
It is no great secret that the productivity of an employee is greatly influenced by their working conditions. This may be affected by the ergonomics of a workstation, working relationships or even the simple factor of workload. But one of the most common influences on productivity is the temperature of the workplace.
According to the Workplace (health, safety and welfare) Regulations 1992, there are no set legal requirements for a maximum air temperature in a workplace, only minimum temperatures (16˚c or 13˚c if a job requires continual physical effort). Regulation 7 states only that “during working hours the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”. This only applies to employees not visitors or the public, but nevertheless, like much of Health and safety law, it is deliberately left open to the discretion of the employer, who has a duty of care to have control measures ready and provide a comfortable workplace for the employee.
Of course, there are many factors that can affect how comfortable a workplace is, such as: radiant temperature, humidity, air velocity, what clothing an employee is required to wear (ie. personal protective equipment), what IT equipment is present and the weight, age and physical condition of an employee.
The office environment
Naturally, if the workplace is a bakery, a foundry, a cold store or a warehouse, extreme factors come into play. But in an office environment, employers can control the temperature by applying some simple control measures.
In offices, employees tend to be sat still for long periods of time and therefore regulating the temperature and ensuring employees are comfortable at all times, is very important. Extreme temperatures can affect focus and concentration, can lead to fatigue and mistakes, can affect productivity and can cause stress.
TUC guidelines suggest that ‘thermal comfort’ can be obtained by keeping the workplace temperature between 13˚c and 30˚c, but in a unionised environment it is unlikely an employer would risk providing a workplace towards either end of this scale. More general guidance is to regulate the temperature between 18˚c and 21˚c. In an office environment this is best achieved of course via an air conditioning system, so you can maintain this temperature all year round and conditions are not affected by seasonal change.
However, as is often the case, the guidelines cater for what is reasonably practicable for employers. Of course it is common sense that if people complain about being too hot or too cold, then you need to do something about it. It is considered reasonable in a country with the UK’s climate for employers to provide a heating system, but not necessarily an air conditioning system, although without doubt this is the best solution for maintaining a balanced and comfortable environment all-year-round.
All office environments should be covered by a thermal risk assessment, which can analyse the likelihood of heat stress and what measures are in place to control it. When complete, it is reasonable for all employers to consider the following control measures:
- Regulate office temperatures to ensure there are no seasonal swings, through management and provision of air conditioning systems, adequate window ventilation, fans and heating systems.
- Isolate workers, where necessary, from a proximity to windows, doors, air conditioning outlets and heat-emitting computer systems.
- Control direct sunlight via blinds and louvres.
- Minimise draughts.
- Use vents to increase airflow and prevent ‘dead air’ which leads to fatigue and stress.
- Provide water refreshment and make this available at all times.
Why water is important
Of course water should not just be considered as a control measure to reduce the effects of heat, it is a staple part of what our body needs every day. In an office environment, however, water is important for many reasons:
- Helps skin health
- Flushes the body of toxins
- Good for a healthy heart
- Boosts energy and therefore productivity
- Lubricates joints (important if you are sat at a desk most of the time)
- Hydrates the body and regulates the body temperature.