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Low temp work? Your rights if it's too cold in the workplace

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 23 December 2015
  2. Employment
  3. 0 comments
Businessman frozen in office

It’s the coldest time of the year, and many of us are feeling winter’s chill. Travelling to and from work in low temperatures is an unfortunate necessity, but what are your rights if your workplace itself is too cold for comfort?

Your employer’s responsibilities

The temperature of the workplace falls under health and safety law, and while there is no legal minimum temperature for a workplace, employers are required to keep warmth levels “reasonable”. Generally, the guidance suggests that that this should be around 16ºC, or 13ºC where the job involves manual labour.

There is no legal requirement to meet these exact numbers, however, as employers are expected to consider the individual circumstances of the workplace and consider what would be a comfortable temperature. Your employer should have carried out a risk assessment which tackled such issues as keeping the workplace at an appropriate temperature to ensure there is no risk to the health and safety of employees.

If a large number of employees bring concerns about temperature to their employer’s attention, they will have to consider whether the current approach to keeping the workplace warm is adequate as part of their ‘duty of care’ – so if everyone seems to have a problem with how cold it is, you should complain to your employer about it, not just each other.

Working in a cold environment

Some jobs may require you to work in a cold environment such as a walk-in freezer or cold room. Where practical, food refrigeration should be kept separated from areas where employees are working, but this is not always possible – in these cases, your employer should ensure that the impact on workers is mitigated as much as possible.

Some examples of how they might do this include heating workstations or rest areas, providing appropriate thermal clothing for employees, rotating duties so that employees do not have to work for too long in colder temperatures, and allowing more frequent breaks.

Working outside

If you do outside work, your employer obviously has little control over the temperature of your working area, but they are still required to take steps to reduce the impact that the cold weather may have on your comfort and health.

This might include measures such as supplying warm work clothes to employees, providing warm rest areas and hot drinks, and allowing breaks to be taken at appropriate intervals. They should also consider if winter is the best time to undertake certain types of work that may expose employees to cold temperatures.

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