Working in High Temperatures - What is the Legal Limit?The law does not state a maximum temperature because some industries find themselves working in conditions with excess heat such as glass works for example. However, there is no specific minimum temperature set in law but the Approved Code of Practice suggests a minimum of at least 16°C in the indoor workplace and where there is a lot of physical activity the temperature should be at least 13°C. Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, Section 7(1) states “During working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable” To ensure that the workplace is ‘reasonable’, as an employer you have a legal duty under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the risks within the workplace and identify the most ‘reasonable practicable’ controls to manage the risk. As an employer you have a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in certain circumstances.
What do we Mean by Reasonably Practicable?Employers have a legal duty to protect employees as so far as is reasonably practicable under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and this is about balancing the risk against time, effort and cost. To illustrate this, if a small business with 5 employees didn’t have an air conditioning system and the majority of them were complaining about the high temperatures, then it would not be reasonably practicable to expect them to install a full air conditioning system if there were high cost implications for the business. However, if it was a large business with 100 employees then it would be reasonably practicable to expect them to install a full air conditioning system.
Can I use Air Con or Fans During the Covid-19 Pandemic?The risk of spreading Covid-19 from fans or air conditioning units is extremely low providing there is adequate supply of fresh air. If you use fans in the workplace whether desk, ceiling or free standing, it is advisable that these are to be used only if there is an adequate supply of fresh air i.e. open a window or door (unless its a fire door). Good fresh ventilation and using fans can help reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 as this will reduce any droplets that are stagnant in the air. Most types of air conditioning systems can be used as normal, however centralised systems that remove and circulate air to various rooms is not recommended as this will spread any droplets from one room to another. Mechanical ventilation systems which bring fresh air in should only be used. If you are not sure what system you have on the premises you should contact your ventilation maintenance contractor or contact your landlord.
Control MeasuresHere at Wirehouse our H&S Consultants are often asked about the legal aspect of introducing control measures to manage the temperature within the workplace. To determine if it is reasonable or unreasonable, if one employee is complaining about the heat and no-one else is then it would be reasonable but if 8 out of 10 people were complaining about the heat then it would be unreasonable and it then comes a legal duty to manage the risk and implement control measures. To determine the most appropriate control, the ‘hierarchy of controls’ should be used:
- 1. Can we eliminate the risk?
- 2. Can we reduce the risk?
- 3. Can we prevent employees from working in the high temperatures?
- 4. What Safe Systems of Work can we introduce?
- 5. Can we protect our employees by asking them to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)?