Do you or your colleagues grumble about the temperature in your office? Is it always too cold, or too hot, but never just right? Do you leave a cardigan permanently on your chair for extra protection?
If so, you’re not alone. Temperature complaints at work sit at the top of workplace complaints.
Yet when is it right to complain, rather than sit alone and hunched up in discomfort?
You have a legitimate right to voice your complaint if a significant number of workers are in thermal discomfort. However, what constitutes ‘discomfort’ is less clear.
The Workplace Regulations 1992 recommend a ‘reasonable’ workplace temperature. Yet this ‘reasonable’ temperature is determined by context, such as the type of work and environmental conditions. For instance, you would expect higher temperatures in a smelters yard than a storage warehouse, and so what is considered a ‘reasonable’ temperature differs between the two. The law does not state either a minimum or maximum temperature, but suggests that the ideal temperature should be at least 16 degrees, and as low as 13 degrees if rigorous activity in involved.
Recent research on office temperatures has revealed that climate control system in offices, such as air conditioning, are often set according to a traditional formula based on a man’s thermal comfort. What’s more, how individuals ‘feel’ temperature often depends on personal factors, such as body size, metabolic rates, tissue insulation and clothing. Consequently there are two significant findings:
- There is no perfect temperature that would satisfy everyone.
- Women tend to suffer more from office temperatures due to male-orientated settings and gender size differences.
Women, on average, are smaller than men and generate less metabolic heat than male counterparts. This leaves them more susceptible to temperature changes in the workplace. This is not just limited to gender differences but also impacts on cultural differences. For instance, on average, Asians weigh less than Europeans, and therefore are of increased susceptibility.
For employers, the issue of office temperature is no longer one of minor grievances, but could be something quite considerable if all these new factors are taken into account, such as gender and cultural biases.
If you are concerned about workplace temperatures, or simply inundated with staff complaints, we recommend they carry out a risk assessment to ensure they are compliant with regulation and offering optimal temperature for increased workforce productivity.