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Health and safety obligations in cold weather working

By maintaining a reasonable temperature, employers are likely to maintain the morale and productivity of their staff

As we get into the peak of the winter period, it is important that all employers understand their health and safety obligations in relation to the temperature of their workplace and keeping people as comfortable as possible when working in the cold. Sarbjit Bisla, in Weightmans’ specialist health and safety team, provides guidance on working in cold and wintry weather.

Employers’ duties in relation to the temperature of their workplaces

Employers owe a general duty under Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all their employees. This is wide enough to include any risks to health, safety or welfare arising from working in cold temperatures.

Additionally, employers owe a specific duty under Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 which requires temperatures in all workplaces inside buildings to be “reasonable”. The regulation also requires that a sufficient number of thermometers are provided to enable employees to determine the temperature in any workplace inside a building.

There are no legal minimum and maximum temperatures for workplaces. However, all employers are expected to ensure indoor workplaces are kept at a reasonable temperature. The Approved Code of Practice for the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 suggests the minimum temperature should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius.

Assessing whether a workplace is too cold

Employers are required to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the risks from a cold workplace and the significant findings should be recorded. The risk assessment will need to consider matters such as the nature of the work being undertaken and working hours and shift patterns.

Employers should also consult with their workforce, including any appointed health and safety representatives or recognised trade union representatives.

Practical steps that employers can take to help reduce the risks from a cold workplace

Once the above risk assessment has been carried out, employers should implement any control measures that the risk assessment identifies are needed to reduce the relevant risks so far as reasonably practicable. Control measures that may be identified in the risk assessment process are outlined below.

Indoor workplaces

Employers should:

  • ensure a reasonable working temperature in workplaces – usually at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work
  • provide adequate workplace heating, such as portable heaters, to ensure that work areas are warm enough when they are occupied
  • local heating, (using, for example, portable heaters and radiators), where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom, such as in cold manufacturing processes
  • reduce draughts while still keeping adequate ventilation
  • provide appropriate protective clothing for cold environments such as cold stores
  • provide insulating floor coverings or special footwear when workers have to stand for long periods on cold floors
  • provide heating systems which do not give off dangerous or offensive levels of fume into the workplace.

Employers can also change work arrangements to avoid people getting too cold by:

  • limiting exposure by introducing flexible working patterns such as job rotation, moving workers to warmer parts of the workplace where possible
  •  relaxing formal dress codes to allow more layers of clothing
  • allowing enough breaks to allow workers to get hot drinks or warm up in heated areas

Outdoor workplaces

There are additional practical steps that employers can take for those working outdoors:

  • providing mobile rest facilities, maintained at an appropriate temperature, for warming up, and soup or hot drinks
  • introducing more frequent rest breaks
  • using grit or similar on areas prone to be slippery in frosty, icy conditions
  • ensuring that any personal protective equipment issued is appropriate
  • raising awareness with workers to recognise the early symptoms of cold stress, such as a cough or body aches.

By maintaining a reasonable temperature, employers are likely to maintain the morale and productivity of their staff as well as improving health and safety. People working in uncomfortably cold environments are less likely to perform well and more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make good decisions deteriorates.

For more information please contact our health and safety solicitors.