Cold weather brings lots of worries for employers and employees alike. Main concerns include travel, absenteeism, illnesses and general health and safety. In this post, we aim to give a little practical advice to help you to handle the biggest business concerns that cold weather brings.
What temperature should my workplace be?
There is no legal lower limit for indoor working temperature, but the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations of 1992 state that the minimum temperature in the workplace should not fall below 16°c, reduced to 13°c if the work requires a high level of physical activity. However, these are only recommended guidelines and not legal requirements. The regulations go on to state that the temperature of workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing.
Employers are required to do what is reasonable and practical to keep employees warm and safe. Extra risk assessments may need to be carried out to ensure that employers are doing everything that they can to ensure their employees are not at risk of illness or injury.
When the weather begins to affect the workplace, the HSE recommends the following measures in order to keep the working environment warm:
- Provide adequate heating with the addition of additional heaters if required
- Reduce any drafts and reduce exposure to the cold by minimising the length of time that tasks are carried out outdoors or in colder areas
- Provide ample break time for employees to spend time in warmer areas, eat warm food and make hot drinks
- Provide appropriate floor insulation or footwear if employees are expected to stand for extended periods of time
What if the weather makes it difficult or impossible to reach your workplace?
If heavy snow or ice is making your journey extremely long, difficult or dangerous, the most advisable thing to do would be to talk to your manager about working remotely.
Employers should prepare for such events with clear guidelines in place to avoid confusion among employees. Employers and employees should both act in a responsible manner at these times to protect individual safety and the interests of the company. By being prepared for such events ahead of time, risk of confusion is lowered and safety concerns are clearly communicated.
If you have to travel in the snow or ice, make sure that you are aware of the best way to drive in these conditions.
What about illnesses?
Conditions such as asthma, arthritis, psoriasis and cardiovascular disease can all be aggravated by the cold weather and those who suffer from these illnesses should be encouraged to take extra precautions to protect their health.
Working indoors in periods of cold weather can encourage the spread of illnesses such as cold and flu. This is because indoor environments are generally less ventilated in the winter months and people’s immune systems are normally weaker. Consider installing hand sanitizing dispensers around the office to help to control the spread of germs.
Norovirus is another highly contagious illness and is so common in the winter months that most people know it by the name of “the winter vomiting bug”. The bug is easily spread in unventilated environments where people spend a lot of time in close proximity to one another. Those who have had the bug should remain off of work for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have cleared and should remember to properly clean and disinfect their desk and equipment upon their return.
Employers should be aware that asthma can become worse in cold weather as the sensitive airways of the sufferer can become aggravated by damp or cold conditions outside. Indoors, sufferers are at risk from heated air and indoor pollutants.