Too hot, too cold, just right

19 Nov 2019

Every working environment is affected by the temperature. Some, more than others, but there are a number of factors that affect how hot or cold a worker feels while they are on the job. This is called ‘thermal comfort’.

It goes without saying that maintaining a thermally comfortable environment is a significant contributor to the mood of workers (ever been in an office where one end is hot, and the other end is cold? It’s not pretty!). But beyond this, employers have a duty of care to ensure that workers are not subjected to undue stress caused by thermal discomfort when they are in a workplace environment.

The factors

WorkSafe NZ does not state a minimum or maximum safe temperature for workplaces (except for those in extreme temperature situations such as mining), largely because every workplace is different and there are too many variables to consider. So, the onus is on the employer to consider all the factors that impact the thermal comfort of their workplace. These are things like:

  • Humidity
  • Sun exposure and other radiant heat sources
  • How much air movement there is
  • Whether the task being performed is physically strenuous or sedentary
  • What clothing or PPE the worker is wearing
  • Personal health/tolerances of the workers themselves

Assessing thermal risk

Like all workplace hazards, temperature should be monitored and managed. Factors like those mentioned above should be identified and eliminated or managed to create a comfortable working temperature. If risks cannot be eliminated, they must be minimised through substitution, isolation, engineering controls and PPE.

Workers should always be engaged, both when identifying temperature risks and in the minimisation of them. By doing so, you will create a workplace environment that promotes better health, positive behaviours (because employees will be feeling comfortable and able to concentrate) and lower risk of incidents. It could be as simple as asking workers to rate their thermal comfort on a scale, which will indicate if there is a problem and how widespread it is:

Source: WorksSafe NZ

In many cases, it may only be a small number of employees who are feeling thermal discomfort. This can easily be overcome by personal measures such as heaters, fans or clothing changes. If more people are uncomfortable then potential sources of thermal discomfort should be identified and eliminated.

What this all boils down to is that employees who are comfortable are likely to be more productive, able to concentrate better and generally happier, which results in a better mood and overall more successful outcomes.