Workplace temperature

Indoor workplaces

The law does not state a minimum or maximum temperature, but the temperature in workrooms should normally be at least:

  • 16°C or
  • 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort

A meaningful maximum figure cannot be given due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries. In such environments it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present. Factors other than air temperature, i.e. radiant temperature, humidity and air velocity, become more significant and the interaction between them become more complex with rising temperatures.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 lay down particular requirements for most aspects of the working environment. Regulation 7 deals specifically with the temperature in indoor workplaces and states that:

'During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.'

However, the application of the regulation depends on the nature of the workplace, such as a bakery, a cold store, an office, a warehouse.

These Regulations only apply to employees – they do not apply to members of the public, for example, with regard temperature complaints from customers in a shopping centre or cinema.

Outdoor working

When working outdoors the effects of the weather in the UK environment can potentially have a serious impact on an employee's health if the risks have not been considered or properly managed. This impact may be immediate or it may occur over a long time period.

When working outdoors the weather can have influence an individual's effectiveness and this is not readily managed using just engineering controls. In these circumstances some of the most effective ways of managing these environments are to introduce some simple administrative controls for example:

Cold environments

  • ensure the personal protective equipment issued is appropriate
  • provide mobile facilities for warming up, and encourage the drinking of warm fluids such as soup or hot drinks
  • introduce more frequent rest breaks
  • consider delaying the work – can it be undertaken at warmer times of the year without compromising on safety?
  • educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of cold stress

Hot environments

  • reschedule work to cooler times of the day
  • provide more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
  • provide free access to cool drinking water
  • introduce shading in areas where individuals are working
  • encourage the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss
  • educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress

Working in the sun

Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin. It can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering and skin ageing and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK with over 50,000 new cases every year.

A tan is a sign that the skin has been damaged. The damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight.

Who is at risk?

If work keeps you outdoors for a long time your skin could be exposed to more sun than is healthy for you. You should take particular care if you have:

  • fair or freckled skin that doesn't tan, or goes red or burns before it tans
  • red or fair hair and light-coloured eyes
  • a large number of moles

Chilled and frozen products

Workroom temperatures in places where food is handled

Food businesses need to ensure that the requirements of food hygiene law are achieved while maintaining a 'reasonable temperature' in the workroom.

There is not a conflict in law. Generally food hygiene law regulates the temperatures of food while health and safety law regulates the air temperature of the workroom. The few exceptions where hygiene law does specify a maximum air temperature can be accommodated by well-known techniques such as localised refrigerated enclosure.

Health and safety requirements

Health and safety temperature requirements in open workrooms can be met by:

  • maintaining a 'reasonable' temperature throughout the workroom of at least 16° (or at least 13° if the work involves serious physical effort). This may mean chilling the food locally or minimising its exposure to ambient temperature or, if this is not practical;
  • providing warm workstations within a workroom where the overall temperature may be lower or, if this is not practical;
  • keeping the individual warm by providing suitable protective clothing, heated rest facilities and developing a task rotation system.

Working in chill units and freezers

Health and safety temperature requirements in chill units and freezers can be met by:

  • local heating in vehicle cabs where practicable;
  • keeping the individual warm by providing suitable thermal clothing, appropriate breaks to warm up and developing a task rotation system

For work in chillers around 0oC suitable clothing and normal breaks are usually sufficient. For work in blast freezers operating down to -30oC no personal protective equipment (PPE) will be sufficient and breaks at ambient temperature or in warming rooms will be needed.

Guidance can be found in British Standard BS7915:1998 'Ergonomics of the thermal environment - Guide to design and evaluation of working practices for cold indoor working environments'. This BS highlights the need for a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify the necessary controls such as wearing appropriate PPE, suitable and sufficient breaks in warming rooms with drinks dispensers etc.

Health issues to consider include asthma or other respiratory conditions (freezer air is very dry), cardiovascular and circulatory conditions such as Raynaud's phenomenon. Additionally some blast freezers can have high noise levels.

Means of escape following entrapment inside walk-in refrigeration units, chill units and freezers should be provided. Doors should be openable from the inside and lighting or otherwise provided to enable the door and opening device to be seen when the door is closed. The risk assessment may show trapped person alarms appropriate.