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Health and Safety

Health & Safety - Cold weather advice

I have been approached by members in a number of workplaces complaining both about the cold temperatures and about the failure of management to improve these.

The Council's Frequently Asked Questions section on the Orb states that

"Q1. My office is too hot/cold. What can be done to make it more comfortable?

Normally the temperature in an office should not be less than 16C. No maximum temperature is specified in the legislation which only requires it to be 'reasonably comfortable'.

By law offices should be provided with thermometers so that you can check the temperature. During times when the main heating or cooling systems break down or when extremes of temperature are experienced (e.g. mid winter or high summer) then temporary heating or cooling can be provided.

Individual preferences on temperature vary and it is often difficult to achieve a temperature that everyone will find comfortable. Most people are happy with a temperature within the range of 18C and 24C.

Where the main heating/cooling system is defective then this should be reported through your normal management structure or, in buildings serviced by Facilities Management, to the Facilities Helpdesk.

Q2. There is an uncomfortable draught in our office. I think it might be giving me a frozen shoulder.

The Health and Safety (Workplace) Regulations 1992 require workplaces to be kept free from uncomfortable draughts. Your manager will need to identify the source of the draught and either take action to eliminate the draught or reorganise the arrangement of the workstations to minimise exposure to the draught.

It may be necessary to obtain technical assistance from service areas in the Council who have responsibility for the maintenance of Council properties (e.g. Property Management; Facilities Management)"

Further Information

It is clear that the intention is to maintain a temperature of between 18 - 24 degrees in the working environment. Offices should have access to thermometers so that accurate readings can be taken in the areas where workers are complaining.

The HSE recommend that employers should consider carrying out a Thermal Comfort Risk Assessment where 10% of workers in an air conditioned office or 15% of workers in a naturally ventilated office complain of being too hot or too cold. I would recommend that in any instances where the temperature is out with the 18 - 24 range are reported on a Council Accident/Incident form as it has the potential to cause harm.

It could be that even temperatures within this banding are not acceptable. There are air comfort factors other than temperature for example air quality, wind chill and humidity that can make workers feel uncomfortable in a workplace where on the face of it measurement by temperature alone makes the workplace seem within the guidance.

Particular workers for example pregnant workers, workers with a pre existing medical condition or older workers may suffer within the range. The nature of the work also has an affect.

Wholly sedentary (permanently desk based staff for example) will need a higher workplace temperature to be comfortable than more physically active workers.

Another issue that has come up is that of workers who are required to work outdoors during the severe weather. Your manager is responsible for your Health and Safety. If duties outside a set workplace are part of your job then the Risk Assessment of your job should reflect this. Severe weather is a factor that needs to be taken into account.

If the Risk Assessment doesn't do this then it needs to be revised when severe weather is a factor. Whether workers should be carrying out duties in adverse conditions is a decision for managers to make but they must ensure that the work is safely carried out.

Issues such as lone working, the provision of PPE (protective clothing) or temporary transfer to other duties are amongst the issues that managers may want to consider.

Please ensure that if you complete an accident/incident form it should be forwarded to your manager who should in turn forward it to Health and Safety Section. A copy should also be forwarded to your Safety Representative. If you don't have one on your site please forward it to the Branch Health and Safety Officer, UNISON Branch Office, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh.

The Health and Safety Executive define a manager's responsibilities for Thermal Comfort with regard to Cold Temperatures as follows; "This section outlines your responsibilities as a manager, and suggests some ways you can improve thermal comfort in the workplace.

Managing thermal comfort in the workplace

In organisations where thermal discomfort in indoor environments is a risk, it is vital that management provides a visible commitment to the health and well-being of their employees.

In many workplaces, thermal discomfort may only occur during unscheduled repair and maintenance work, when heating ventilation and air conditioning systems either break down or don't work as intended, e.g. during the hottest or coldest months. When this occurs, it is important to consider the possible impact of increased thermal discomfort on employees.

It is the responsibility of management to ensure that a company adapts as necessary to reduce or eliminate the risk of thermal discomfort amongst the employees. If thermal discomfort is a risk, and your employees are complaining and/or reporting illnesses that may be caused by the thermal environment, then you will be required to develop a thermal comfort programme:

You may need to train and/or re-train staff. Training may be required for the thermal comfort risk assessments, analysis of data, and interpretation of results and implementation of controls. Training may also be required to explain to staff how, by modifying their working practices (such as clothing worn, work rate etc), they may be able to adapt to their thermal environment.

The thermal conditions may need to be monitored and where possible recorded.

Health surveillance or medical screening may be required for staff that have special requirements such as pregnancy, certain illnesses, disabilities and/or maybe taking medication. Medical advice should be sought if necessary.

Adequate and appropriate risk assessment procedures are essential. Records of all procedures and results should be kept as part of your risk management programme.

Working habits and current practices need to be reviewed periodically and (where necessary) changed, to meet your obligations to control the risks your employees may face. When people are too cold You can help ensure thermal comfort when working in the cold by:

providing adequate workplace heating, e.g. portable heaters; reducing cold exposure by designing processes that minimise exposure to cold areas and cold products where possible;

reducing draughts;

providing insulating floor coverings or special footwear when workers have to stand for long periods on cold floors;

providing appropriate protective clothing for cold environments

introducing formal systems of work to limit exposure, e.g. flexible working patterns, job rotation;

allowing sufficient breaks to enable employees to get hot drinks or to warm up in heated areas".

If you have any queries about problems in your workplace please contact your local Safety Representative or the Branch Health and Safety Officer.

Dave McConnell
Branch Health and Safety Officer
22 December 2010

 

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