Too cold to work?

Too cold to work?

Published: December 12th, 2022

The Met Office has issued a string of yellow weather warnings for snow and ice across the UK over the next few days, and the UK Health Security Agency has put out a level three cold weather alert across England. 

With temperatures dropping – last night saw lows of -8°C, the HSE has issued guidance on keeping people as comfortable as possible when working in the cold.

Here we explain your responsibilities as an employer and suggest ways you can manage the temperature in your workplace to protect workers.

Indoor workplaces

Employers should provide:

  • a reasonable working temperature in workrooms – usually at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work
  • local heating or cooling (using fans, opening windows, using radiators) where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom, such as in hot and cold manufacturing processes
  • rest facilities where necessary, eg for hot work or warm clothing in cold stores
  • heating systems which do not give off dangerous or offensive levels of fume into the workplace

Outdoor workplaces

When working outdoors, the weather can have a serious impact on worker’s health if the risks have not been properly managed.

The weather can also affect a worker’s ability to keep safe, for example when handling machinery.

There are simple actions you can take to protect people working outdoors.

  • Ensure the personal protective equipment issued is appropriate
  • Provide mobile facilities for warming up, and soup or hot drinks
  • Introduce more frequent rest breaks
  • Consider delaying the work until warmer times of the year without compromising on safety
  • Make sure workers can recognise the early symptoms of cold stress, such as a cough or body aches

When people are too cold

You can take these practical steps to keep people as comfortable as possible when working in the cold:

  • Provide adequate workplace heating, such as portable heaters, to ensure work areas are warm enough when they are occupied
  • Design processes that minimise exposure to cold areas and cold products
  • Reduce draughts while still keeping adequate ventilation
  • Provide insulating floor coverings or special footwear when workers have to stand for long periods on cold floors
  • Provide appropriate protective clothing for cold environments

You can also change work systems:

  • Limit exposure by introducing systems such as flexible working patterns or job rotation
  • Provide enough breaks to allow workers to get hot drinks or warm up in heated areas

There is a workplace temperature checklist to help you carry out a basic risk assessment and more information about temperature in the workplace can be found here.

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