With the winter season back again it’s time for employers to make sure that the workplace is winter-ready and for employees to make sure they know their rights.
Whilst most employers endeavour to make sure that the workplace is a reasonable temperature and that access to hot drinks and heaters are usual practice, what exactly does the law say about what the temperature should be? Well, here we have answered the most common questions about winter in the workplace.
1. What is the minimum temperature allowed in the workplace?
The answer to this question greatly depends upon what work is carried out and in what type of workplace the job is carried in, but the starting point is what the law actually states. The rules are contained in the Workplace (Health, Safety, and Welfare) Regulations (WHSWR). They do not however give a specified minimum temperature (and maximum temperature for that matter), but simply says that the temperature should be “reasonable” and they suggest a minimum temperature of 16C or 13C if the job is a manual one.
Of course, because the law only suggests this minimum temperature, an employer does not have to meet it, however they should carry out a full risk assessment to be able to determine what a reasonable minimum for the individual circumstances is, for example what is reasonable for an office worker will be very different than what is reasonable to a builder working outdoors on site.
2. I work in an office and the heating is broken, can I go home?
Your employer is entitled to attempt to use another safe method of heating the workplace prior to allowing staff to leave. Any heat supply used must not cause fumes, vapours or gas to be emitted if they are likely to cause harm or injury. Employers should take temperature readings to assess the situation and the reading should be taken at working height, next to workstations and away from windows. If your employer is unable to heat the workplace to a reasonable temperature then you are allowed to leave without losing pay.
3. I work outside, what minimum temperature applies to me?
If the work you carry out involves rigorous physical effort, the minimum temperature suggested by the WHSWR is 13 Celsius. Again, your employer must assess the situation and make a reasonable decision based on the circumstances.
In addition to the above your employer should provide you with heaters where appropriate, adequate protective clothing for cold environments and sufficient breaks and access to warm drinks/warm food. Your employer could also consider job rotation if some employees are in a warmer environment.
4. I work in a kitchen and regularly work next to a cold store. What protection do I have?
Again your employer should consider job rotation, or regular breaks in order that you can regularly get warm. If you regularly enter a cold store you should be provided with adequate protective clothing and gloves.
5. I am an employer, what should I be doing
In addition to the above points, all employers should regularly review their current policies to control any potential risks. Employers should always remember that in addition to policies regarding employees as a whole, they should also take into account policies for employees who require additional requirements such as pregnant employees or those with medical conditions which may be affected by significant/extreme temperature fluctuations.
Your policies and procedures should be adequate to be able to monitor the temperature changes, the needs of staff and to swiftly deal with a change in the circumstances of the workplace due to temperature issues. Always record your assessments of the workplace, any changes, what implementations you have made and any employees with specific needs. Remember, if your employees have to go home because you cannot increase the temperature to a reasonable level, you must pay them.
ALISON FIELDEN SOLICITORS WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY NEW YEAR!