Extremes of temperature in the workplace and how they can affect employees
Working in extremes of temperature is associated with a number of health hazards including:
- heat exhaustion;
- sunburn/skin damage;
- risk of developing skin cancer;
- cold exposure;
- frost bite;
- secondary Reynaud's.
Employees who are asked to work in extremes of temperature should inform their employer of any new or existing health conditions such as:
- heart disease;
- thyroid conditions;
- peripheral circulatory disorders;
- skin cancer;
Employees should report any untoward incidents or occurrences involving people working in extremes of temperature to their line manager.
What are employers' responsibilities?
Temperatures in the workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (the Regulations) which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a 'reasonable' temperature in the workplace. The law does not stipulate a minimum temperature in workplaces but the Regulations suggest that the temperature in workrooms should normally be at least 16°C (or 13°C if much of the work indoors involves severe physical effort). The Regulations do not lay down a maximum temperature but the TUC has called for a maximum temperature of 30°C (27°C for those doing strenuous work) - this is intended as an absolute maximum.
In addition to the Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their workers and take action where necessary and reasonably practicable. Where there are requirements for workrooms to operate at lower temperatures (e.g. for food hygiene purposes) employers should refer to chilled food advice.
Adequate and appropriate risk assessment procedures are essential. Records of all procedures and results should be kept as part of the risk management programme. Depending on the outcome of the risk assessment, appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided (i.e. warm clothing, gloves, sun block, access to additional fluids, etc.).
Health surveillance or medical screening may be required for staff who have special requirements (e.g. pregnancy, certain illnesses or disabilities, medication). Medical conditions that may be affected by extremes of temperature include: diabetes; hypertension; respiratory, heart or kidney disease; Reynaud's disease. Employers are required to investigate any reports of illnesses that may be caused by working in hot or cold temperatures and, if necessary, implement appropriate controls to manage the risks. More information on working in heat and cold can be found on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.
Appropriate facilities and rest breaks must be provided (e.g. access to water dispensers/ hot drinks, respite from the sun (particularly at midday), regular breaks from cold temperatures (e.g. food refrigeration plants)). Employers may want to consider job rotation/flexible work patterns.
Education and training (including refresher courses) should be provided for staff on environmental monitoring and recording, safe systems of work, health awareness training on the effects of working in hot and cold temperatures (use of sun cream, hydration, early signs of skin cancer, etc.).
What help is available for employees?
The Health for Work Adviceline 0800 077 88 44 can provide guidance on protecting the health of staff working in hot or cold temperatures.
You can also contact your union or health and safety representative for advice if you have any issues relating to temperature at work.
Further sources of information
The TUC has a number of guides on temperature.
Issued: 29 April, 2013