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Too cold to work?

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

One question health and safety professionals are often asked in winter is if there are legal limits in temperature below which you are not allowed to work.

The simple answer is yes, but there are "howevers" involved. The law itself does not state a minimum (or indeed a maximum) temperature. Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 deals with temperatures for indoor workplaces. It says:

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

However, the Approved Code of Practice for the regulations, and the HSE website, state that temperature in indoor workrooms (excluding where processes require temperature to be lower such as refrigerators, where suitable clothing, limitations on access, and other controls are in place) should normally be at least 16C, or, if much of the work involved rigorous physical effort, 13C.

These temperatures apply only to employees and other workers. They do not apply to members of the public.

In addition to the above, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to risk assess risks to their employees, and this can include temperature.

Thermal comfort should also be taken into account. Thermal comfort is the person's state of mind as to whether they feel too hot or too cold. It is difficult to define, as it involves environmental, personal and work-related factors to decide what makes a comfortable temperature.

Managing thermal comfort is important for several reasons:

  • it improves morale and increases productivity

  • people who are uncomfortable are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make decisions or perform tasks deteriorates.

  • concentration suffers.

  • people take short cuts.

A thermal comfort risk assessment is recommended. This ideally should cover:

  • Environmental factors such as air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity, and humidity

  • Personal factors such as clothing insulation, and work rate / metabolic heat.

The HSE has useful guidance on this on its website, including a thermal comfort checklist.

The above article is part of KSH Safety Services' The Four Seasons of Health and Safety campaign, which is running throughout 2020. For more information click here.


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