Having only just thawed out from temperatures that dipped as low as -10⁰C earlier this month, the UK is braced for more snow and frost in the coming weeks. At the other end of the thermometer, it was only a few months ago that we saw record-break summer highs of 40.3⁰C.

With extreme weather conditions seemingly a new reality for the UK, it is important that employers comply with their obligations to keep workers safe during spells of excessive temperatures.

Is there a minimum workplace temperature

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What does the law say about safe temperatures at work?

Although no law specifies the minimum or maximum permissible working temperatures in the workplace, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 puts employers under a duty of care to ensure the temperature in an indoor workplace is reasonable for their staff.

What is reasonable will depend on the working environment, as a bakery, an office and a cold storage facility are all reasonably expected to have varying temperatures.

The Health and Safety Executive, the national regulator for health and safety in the workplace, has issued guidance on the regulations in its Approved Code of Practice. Whilst there is no guidance on a maximum temperature, it recommends that the minimum temperature in an indoor workplace should be at least 16⁰C or if the work involves rigorous physical effort, 13⁰C.

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What other legal duties are employers under when it comes to staff safety?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a statutory duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their workers at work. This extends to providing a safe place of work and safe working methods.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must make arrangements to control health and safety risks. As a minimum, employers should:-

  • Conduct health and safety risk assessments, including possible illness or injury from workplace temperatures;
  • Formulate a plan to eliminate the hazard or, if not possible, control the risk; and
  • Consult with their workers on health and safety issues and how such risks will be dealt with.

There is a common law obligation for employers to provide a “suitable working environment” for staff that is broader than the above regulations but will include safe working temperatures.

This means employers must take reasonable steps to protect their workers from harm, including harm caused by excessive workplace temperatures.

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How do employers manage extreme temperatures in the workplace?

If extreme temperatures are expected, employers should consider the following practical steps to keep their workers as safe as possible:

  • Relax dress codes so staff can wear more suitable clothing
  • Adjust the temperature of the heating and cooling systems at work
  • Provide sufficient breaks to allow workers to get hot or cold drinks
  • Provide extra heating or cooling equipment such portable hears or fans
  • Design processes that minimise exposure to cold areas or products
  • Reduce exposure by using job rotations or flexible working

Excessive temperatures can lead to serious health risks if not managed effectively. Employers should therefore ensure that they regularly review their working practices and environment.

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Employer’s responsibilities for remote workers

The above health and safety obligations also extend to remote workers. However, given the rise in energy bills, employees may need help to keep their homes heated or cooled.

Although employers are not obligated to contribute towards a worker’s energy bills, they should remind their remote workers to maintain a safe temperature and give practical advice on how to do so, such as wearing suitable clothing, consuming warm drinks and working in the warmest/coldest room.

Alternatively, employers may be able to remind home workers of the option of returning to the office, as this will need to be maintained at a reasonable temperature by the employer.

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Employers could face serious repercussions if they fail to follow health and safety regulations. These consequences can include criminal sanctions and financial penalties. Additionally, employers could be exposed to employment tribunal claims for breach of contract or unlawful conduct being pursued against them by employees.

If workplace temperatures are intolerable, employees may complain and refuse to work. On the face of it, this could be considered a misconduct matter warranting disciplinary action. However, employers must act with caution in such situations, as the employee’s refusal to work could qualify for special protection under employment laws, rendering any subsequent punishment or dismissal dealt out to them as unfair and unlawful and forming the basis of a claim in the employment tribunal.

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An employer’s workplace obligations to staff can be complicated, and employers should seek advice if they are unsure. Get in touch with our employment team by filling out the form below or calling:

0161 941 4000