After an icy start to the New Year we thought it timely to take a look at employers' obligations in relation to temperatures in the workplace.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (the 2007 Regulations) which were introduced pursuant to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (the 2005 Act), deal with the issue of temperatures in the workplace.

Serious consequences may arise for those employers who disregard the provisions of the 2007 Regulations.

Employers who are in breach of the 2007 Regulations commit an offence under the 2005 Act, and may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000 and/or to six months imprisonment. Alternatively, if convicted on indictment, an employer may be liable to a fine not exceeding €3,000,000 and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Minimum Temperatures in the Workplace

Regulation 7 of the 2007 Regulations contains important provisions on minimum temperatures for indoor sedentary work. It provides that an employer must ensure that during working hours, the temperature in rooms containing workstations is appropriate for human beings, having regard to the working methods being used and the physical demands on the employees.

In relation to sedentary office work, an employer must ensure that a minimum temperature of 17.5°C, so far as is reasonably practicable, is achieved and maintained at every workstation after the first hour's work. For other sedentary work, an employer must ensure that at every workstation where a substantial proportion of the work is done sitting and does not involve serious physical effort, a minimum temperature of 16°C is, so far as is reasonably practicable, achieved and maintained after the first hour's work.

Temperatures in rest areas, sanitary facilities, canteens and first-aid rooms must be appropriate to the particular purpose of such areas. Workers are entitled to have some means readily available to them to measure the temperature in any workplace inside a building. In practice, this means that if an employee wants to measure the temperature there ought to be a thermometer readily available.

The Health and Safety Authority Guide to the 2007 Regulations (the HSA Guide) states that in cases where it is difficult to maintain an adequate overall temperature, it may be necessary to provide extra heating, protective clothing or cooling at individual workstations. In the extremely cold weather conditions that we have experienced of late, many employers have been taking steps to maintain comfortable working conditions for their employees to include providing employees with extra heaters etc. Care should be taken that temporary heaters are handled with care so as to prevent burns and no heating system should result in harmful fumes escaping into the air of any workroom.

In addition, Regulation 6 of the 2007 Regulations provides that each enclosed workspace must be adequately ventilated. The HSA Guide states that in most cases the natural ventilation provided through windows and doors will be adequate. However, in some cases mechanical ventilation may be necessary, for example, where there are high dust levels or high temperatures or where the workplace is isolated from the outside air. The HSA Guide also states that mechanical ventilation systems should be maintained in good working order and should be free from any substance which may contaminate the air passing by it, thereby affecting the safety and health of employees.

Maximum Temperature in the Workplace

There is no maximum temperature specified in the 2007 Regulations. The HSA Guide notes that although no maximum temperature is specified, this does not mean that any temperature is acceptable. At high or uncomfortable temperatures, particularly when not caused by temporary weather conditions, a means of cooling should be provided. The Guide also suggests that for most people an acceptable temperature for office work lies within the range of 18 to 23 °C. Employers will be aware of their general duty under the 2005 Act to ensure the safety, health and welfare of all employees. The temperature of the workplace, whether too hot or too cold for comfort, can have an adverse effect on the welfare and possible health of employees. Employers ought to give due consideration to complaints raised in relation to temperature levels and take steps to ensure that a reasonable temperature is maintained. Such measures will help maintain the efficiency of the workforce.

Outdoor Working

Regulation 62(1) of the 2007 Regulations provide that an employer shall ensure that personal protective equipment is provided to employees where the risks to the safety and health of employees while at a place of work cannot be avoided. The 2007 Regulations require that an employer, when providing personal protective equipment to employees, take into account a non-exhaustive list of activities and sectors of activity which may require the provision of personal protective equipment. For example, it is recommended that employees working outdoors during cold or wet weather should be provided with weatherproof or waterproof clothing.