As the United Kingdom freezes, so comes with it the very valid question that employers need to address – what is the temperature below which it is not a acceptable to expect employees to work?

The Legislation

As usual, straight for the legislation I head.  The relevant legislation all stems from the UK’s interpretation of the 1989 European Commission Workplace Directive that laid down minimum requirements for safety and health at the workplace.  As this is a devolved issue, the domestic legislation differs depending on whether you are in Great Britain or Northern Ireland:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 in Great Britain, and
  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993

In both pieces of legislation, it is Regulation 7 that says ‘During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.’

Further, it says ‘a workplace shall be adequately thermally insulated where it is necessary, having regard to the type of work carried out and the physical activity of the persons carrying out the work’

So, an employer has to make sure that there is thermal insulation and keep temperatures reasonable.  That’s clear!

What is ‘Reasonable’?

Here we turn to the Approved Code of Practices (ACOP) on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health and Safety Executive (Northern Ireland) (HSENI) Websites.  These are made for the purpose of providing practical, preferred and recommended guidance to employers regarding health and safety legislation.

Whilst failing to comply with anything in the ACOP is not a criminal offence, failure to comply may result in the employer being taken to Court and having to justify that they have complied with Regulation 7 in another way.

So, what does reasonable actually mean?  The ACOP on the HSE and HSENI is the same.  This says on page 19, paragraph 61:

‘The temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius’

Remember, this is guidance and it is also worth looking at paragraphs 62 and 63 which talk about where it is ‘impractical’ to comply with paragraph 61.

Thermal Comfort

Reference in the above guidance is made to ‘thermal comfort’ which then points the reader to the HSE Website that describes what that means.  This is defined as ‘a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold’.  This is worth a read by employers:

I could not find a similar link to thermal comfort on the HSENI Website, though there is reference to thermal risk assessments.  In this instance, I would say that the Great British HSE Website contains better guidance than the equivalent in Northern Ireland.

It’s Important

A cold workforce is not a productive or happy workforce.

So, it is really important that employers are aware of thermal comfort and consult with workers or their representatives to establish ways of coping with low temperatures in the workplace.  The same applies when dealing with high temperatures.

Remember, this applies to employers who have anyone performing work for them in their workplaces.  In that regard, it is worthwhile looking at Regulation 3 (ACOP page 11) for what is not regarded as a workplace under the 1992 and 1993 above Regulations (for example, ships, docks and some construction sites).

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