Workplace Temperatures and the Law

Workplace Temperatures and the Law

Temperature is a critical issue in the workplace that can have grave consequences for employees. Despite this, there is limited guidance on workplace temperature from the law – still, employers must control the temperature in the workplace.

With extreme temperatures becoming the norm, it’s more important than ever to understand the relationship between workplace temperatures and the law. 

In this explanatory article, we’ll examine why workplace temperature is important, what the UK law says about it, and what employers can do to control it.

What does UK law say about workplace temperatures?

There are no legal stipulations on minimum or maximum workplace temperatures. 

However, there is some guidance available from the Approved Code of Practice. It suggests a minimum temperature of 16 degrees Celsius or 13 degrees Celsius for workplaces in which rigorous physical work takes place. 

Disappointingly, it doesn’t suggest a maximum temperature.

However, employers must still abide by health and safety at work law. This requires them to keep workplace temperatures at a comfortable level, as well as provide clean and fresh air.

Why is workplace temperature important?

Without proper workplace temperature controls, employees are exposed to temperature extremes. 

Extreme heat is known to cause several illnesses, including:

  • Heat stroke
  • Heat exhaustion
  • Rhabdomyolysis
  • Heat syncope
  • Heat cramps
  • Heat rash

Similarly, extreme cold is the cause of some afflictions, such as:

  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite
  • Trench foot
  • Chilblains

With extreme weather becoming increasingly frequent as a result of the climate crisis, unmoderated temperatures put workers’ health at risk

How can employers control workplace temperatures?

There are several methods that can be used to cool down hot work environments, including:

  • Deploying portable fans to blow air around key building areas
  • Enforcing regular breaks to allow workers to get fresh air and cool down
  • Introducing flexible work patterns that limit heat exposure
  • Opening doors and windows for ventilation
  • Placing insulation around hot pipes
  • Installing air conditioning
  • Situating workstations away from sunlight and heat-emitting machinery
  • Installing evaporative cooling systems that use a natural process to cool down any space

On the other hand, employers that want to safeguard their workers from extreme cold should:

  • Provide adequate breaks in warm facilities
  • Access to hot beverages
  • Designate drying rooms where wet clothing can be aired
  • Insulate the work premises itself, as well as the metal handles of any tools or equipment
  • Take special precautions in case employees to need to work alone in particularly cold environments

Workplace temperatures: A gap in the law?

While there is limited legal support on workplace temperatures, employers must still uphold their duties to ensure the well-being of their employees, using the various methods available to them.

The law must take a stronger stance on workplace temperature limits, especially for manual labourers or workers in other professions that are exposed to the elements. With the effects of the climate crisis on temperature extremes, it might be that we will see changes in the legislation over the coming years.

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