Is Your Workplace Temperature Affecting Productivity?

14th August 2018

With this summer’s heatwave being one of the longest in recent years, the debate on the ‘ideal’ office temperature continues in workplaces across the UK.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that during working hours the temperature in all indoor workplaces must be ‘reasonable’. There is no law for minimum or maximum working temperatures, although guidance suggests a minimum of 16ºC or 13ºC if employees are doing physical work.

Importantly, there is currently no guidance in place for a maximum temperature limit. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that a meaningful figure cannot be given at the upper end of the scale due to the high temperatures found in certain industries.

A parliamentary committee has called on the UK government to consult on introducing a maximum workplace temperature, especially for work that involves significant physical effort, which will be implemented to tackle lower employee productivity during heatwaves.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s new report entitled ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change’, makes a series of recommendations to help workers cope in overheating work environments, including formal guidance from Public Health England to employers on relaxing dress codes and allowing flexible working during heatwave alerts.

The HSE recommends employers “take all reasonable steps to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature” and advocates the use of fans and increased ventilation in extremely hot weather, in order to provide clean and fresh air.

Jonathan Richards, Principal Consultant at the S2 Partnership, said: “The importance of a suitable indoor working environment for employees, maintaining their health and well-being within the workplace should not be overlooked.”

Although opinions will always differ on what the ‘ideal’ temperature for the office is, when the overall cost to the UK economy is considered, it is clear that thermal discomfort in the workplace simply cannot be ignored. The employer’s essential duty therefore is to determine ‘reasonable comfort’ – the thermal environment satisfying the majority of people (80% of people, according to the HSE) in the workplace.

In addition, 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, taking action where necessary and where reasonably practicable. If employees or tenants are not comfortable in the workplace, efficiency can decrease and complaints rise.

If you would like expert guidance or support on any of the issues detailed above, please contact our specialist teams.