With perhaps the coldest winter approaching, employers should ensure that their office space, factory or warehouse is properly heated during the cold winters or there could be legal ramifications for the employer. The temperature of a workplace might seem like a trivial issue to employers where in fact it could turn out to be a big bone of contention between them and their employees.
Legal Issues Surrounding an Unbearably Cold Workplace
There are no laws specifying a specific maximum or minimum temperature in the workplace. However, according to the workplace regulations act of 1992, employers must ensure that the temperature in the workplace is maintained at a ‘reasonable’ level.
If the work involves considerable physical activity like in a factory or warehouse then the minimum temperature is around the 13°C to 16°C mark. These figures are considered more as a guideline rather than a legally mandated rule. It is also important to take into account the type of workplace before deciding on the appropriate minimum temperature. For example, a warehouse, bakery or cold storage will each have a different minimum temperature based on the type of work being done and also the nature of machines used in such workplaces.
Regulations specify that the employers need to maintain temperatures in workrooms so that reasonable comfort is provided to their employees without having to provide them any special clothing.
In workplaces, where it is not possible to maintain temperatures within a reasonable level because of the utilisation of hot or cold processes, the employer needs to take all the possible steps needed to ensure that temperature within the workplace is as comfortable as possible for their employees.
Employers must be aware of the following laws related to health and safety at the workplace:
- The temperature within the workplace has to be maintained at a reasonable level.
- Employees should have access to clean and fresh air in the workplace.
What Happens If The Workplace Temperatures Fall Below These Levels?
During the 2010 cold snap, GMB National Health and Safety Officer John McClean reminded business owners about the preventive measures that need to be taken if temperatures in the workplace fall below reasonable levels which could significantly affect the comfort levels of their employees. The recommendations provided include:
- If the workplace temperature falls below reasonable levels then employers is required by law to raise the temperature within legally acceptable levels.
- Workers exposed to risks due to the cold and slippery climate may have to be redeployed to an alternative location or work if the conditions within the existing workplace cannot be improved
Steps That Employers Could Take To Improve Thermal Comfort
The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has recommended the following measures to improve thermal comfort in the workplace:
- Reducing an employee’s exposure to the cold by curtailing processes that involve them spending time in cold temperatures.
- Providing sufficient heating in the workplace with the help of extra heaters.
- Providing employees with adequate protective equipment to deal with the low temperatures.
- Reducing draughts.
- Introducing alternative workplace patterns such as flexible shifts to curtail an employee’s exposure to the cold temperatures.
- Providing workers with enough break time to spend time in areas of the workplace where there is sufficient heating.
- Providing protective footwear or insulated flooring to your workers if they have to spend a lot of time in cold temperatures.
Ideally, it is important for an employer to be prepared for the cold winters by conducting a risk assessment concerning the effects of cold temperatures in their workplace.
What Happens If An Employer Fails To Adhere To The Guidelines And Then Gets Caught?
The Carlisle county council handed a retailer a fine of £2000 in 2010, after receiving numerous complaints about inadequate heating in the workplace. The fine was levied after the retailer failed to comply with an improvement notice provided by the council requesting the retailer to provide sufficient heating in the workplace.
The inspector who visited the premises observed that the temperatures were as low as 7.6°C. Subsequently, in multiple inspections of the premises of the retailer, temperatures below 16°c were recorded on each occasion. Following this the retailer was issued an improvement notice under section 21 of the Health and Safety at Work act of 1974.
Therefore, it is important that as an employer you provide sufficient heating in the workplace and not get caught out or you risk paying a hefty fine, if found guilty.
How Can An Employer Ensure That The Workplace Is Sufficient Heated?
Warm Air Heating
Similar to how air conditioning units work you can provide central heating in your workplace through warm air heating units. Warm air units work by blowing out warm air through the grilles around the ductwork and distributing it evenly throughout your workplace.
Why Is Warm Air Heating So Popular For Large Spaces?
Warm air heating has long been considered as one of the most popular and effective ways to heat large spaces such as factories, retail ‘sheds’ or warehouses. The reason for this popularity is the wide number of benefits that warm air heating offers for large spaces in a wide variety of applications. Here we talk about some of the benefits of warm air heating:
It is possible to attain net efficiencies of 91% from basic indirect-fired non-condensing warm air heaters. Latest models can provide even higher levels of efficiencies of 101% net at both full and part load, to comply with the latest regulations.
A great benefit of using warm air heaters is that you can tailor it as per the requirements of your building. Modulating heat outputs can be configured high or low, which means that the heater can spontaneously reduce output if the heating requirements of the building are met. This makes it possible to create a comfortable environment in the building without your employees having to experience sudden shifts in temperature.
Also, when you use warm air heaters it is possible to match the system output of the device depending on building load needs. You will not find such flexibility with alternative devices such as radiant, where the input heat is compromised on some occasions to ensure that there is significant coverage in the heated zone which is very typical for insulated buildings that you find nowadays.
Depending on your needs, it is possible to combine your warm air heaters with destratification fans which will provide you with greater levels of efficiency. Studies have shown that the use of destratification fans in industrial areas which have high ceilings that are running warm air heaters can lower energy consumption by 20%.
Warm air heaters consist of a fan which is used to draw air from the area of the building that is being heated. The air thus drawn by the fan is passed across a heat exchanger and then distributed evenly throughout the building. Such distribution of warm air is not possible through the use of alternative technologies such as radiant heating. Radiant heating technology focuses on warming objects that are in the ‘direct line of sight’. This means that such a system of heating is vulnerable to issues of shading which will contribute towards uneven distribution of heat in the building.
By using warm air heaters you will have flexibility in ensuring that the heating system is configured to the space where you want to provide maximum heat in the building. It is possible to mount the heaters on the wall, suspend them above space or stand them on the floor. Warm air heaters also consist of discharge heads to direct the flow of warm air. It is also possible to connect the heater across the ductwork to distribute warm air across a wider area.
Areas which have dense racking can benefit from special warm air Powrmatic Heating technology. This type of heating is also known as ‘air rotation heating’. These heating systems consist of high powered fans to move larger volumes of air at lower velocities throughout the building. The air distribution is unaffected by the layout of the building.
How Warm Air Heating Can Ensure That Your Warehouse Is Sufficiently Heated?
Warm air heaters offer great flexibility in terms of air movement which is one of its best features. Generally, warm air heating systems re-circulate warm air within the space that requires heating but they can also provide better air movement when operating on a ‘fan only’ mode. It is also possible to equip the heaters with fresh air intakes which can be particularly beneficial in dusty environments or in spaces where fresh air is needed.
Flexible Heat Sources
Warm air heaters offer multiple heat sources to help you manage your energy needs. They are generally run on LPG, natural gas or light fuel oil.
Warm air heaters can be controlled as per the requirements of the space which ensures that no energy is wasted. Energy consumption can also be minimised by optimising the start and stop control of the heating system.