It’s the middle of January. You’ve just got back into the swing of things at work after being off over Christmas and your workplace is freezing.
We all know the person that tries to get everyone half day because of the thermostat has dipped below a certain level. It rarely works however does your employer have a health and safety duty to send you home if it gets too cold?
What does the law say about this and what measures should be taken to ensure the safety of staff in cold conditions?
Working Indoors In Cold Weather
Some people will argue that the minimum temperature you should have to work in is 16 degrees Celsius if you are working at a desk for example or 13 degrees if you are involved in physical duties.
There are guidelines under the 1992 Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations and the 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations that give guidance on the minimum working temperature for indoor workplaces. The key word here is guidance.
The regulations do outline the 16 and 13 degree temperatures but this is more a code of practice than it is actual law and the legislation is quite vague in this regard.
Working Outdoors In Cold Weather
For those employees that predominately work outdoors then there is very little guidance on what steps your employer needs to take. In fact, health and safety law when it comes to working temperatures doesn’t explicitly address working temperatures in cold weather.
While there is a guidance for working indoors – such as in an office or a shop for example – there isn’t much for outdoor workers.
That isn’t to say that you need to simply grin and bear it. Under health and safety law your employer has a duty to provide “a working environment which is so far as is reasonably practicable, safe, without risks to health, and which has adequate welfare facilities” under the 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act.
Measures An Employer Should Take
So when it comes to cold weather conditions while there isn’t a legal basis to be sent home if the temperature drops below a certain level there is still an obligation on the employer to ensure staff are safe.
For example, working in a freezing office might not be suitable for someone with certain health conditions. Similarly, if you are working outside during winter then your employer should provide adequate warm clothing or if there are dangerous conditions refrain from asking you to do certain types of work.
So asking for a half day because the thermostat in your office is showing 14 degrees Celsius isn’t going to get you sent home on its own.
As long as your employer has made adequate arrangements to address the issue and to keep everyone safe by taking into consideration health conditions, disabilities or even pregnancy then they are staying on the right side of health and safety law.
You can certainly raise the issue with your boss but there is no legal basis for you to be sent home.