Hot Under the Collar?

Whilst most holiday-makers will be delighted with the current heatwave which is being experienced in Scotland, many office workers will be finding the current climate much more challenging.  Over the past two weeks, the benefit of having an air-conditioned office is becoming very apparent to many workers, particularly those who do not currently have an air-conditioned workplace.

How hot is my work place permitted to be? 

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 place a legal obligation on employers to provide employees with a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace.  Although the Code of Practice suggests a minimum temperature in workplaces (16 degrees Celsius), there is no suggested temperature for the upper end of the scale.  The Regulations merely require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their workers and to take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.

What is a reasonable temperature?

What is deemed a “reasonable” temperature will vary from workplace to workplace.

However if your office is air conditioned and at least 10% of your staff complain about the temperature, you must conduct a thermal comfort workplace risk assessment.  For non-air conditioned offices, 15% of the workforce will require to complain before an assessment requires to be carried out and for shops and warehouses, this figure is 20%.

What are my obligations as an employer? 

After having carried out an assessment, you should take all reasonable steps to achieve a comfortable temperature within the workplace.  You cannot be forced to install air conditioning, nor can you be forced to provide ice creams or cold beers to all staff.  Similarly you are still permitted to require your workforce to wear a particular uniform or maintain a formal dress code throughout this heatwave.  The Health & Safety Executive suggests that, in these circumstances, employers should consult with their employees to establish a sensible means of coping with the high temperatures.

However perhaps the best advice for employers is to remember that by taking all reasonable steps to assist any heat-stricken employees and by identifying procedures which could ease an over-heated, irritable workforce, you are cultivating a degree of goodwill and loyalty amongst your staff which should hopefully last for longer than this heatwave!

Simon Allison
Partner – Employment Law

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