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Acceptable Workplace Temperatures

One of the research queries we received was in regards to acceptable temperatures within an office environment.

The old Australian Standard AS 1837 – 1976 Code of Practice for Application of Ergonomics to Factory and Office Work recommended a temperature range of 21 – 24 degrees Celsius.

Consider, though that even though the ‘whole’ temperature of the office or factory is sitting within the specified range, some areas may be above or below the recommended temperature. For example, if someone sits directly under an air conditioning vent, then they may be in a draught and therefore much cooler than need be.

I remember visiting a large ‘open floor’ office that consisted of keyboard operators. The majority were working in short and long-sleeve shirts (enjoying a consistent temperature), but one worker (two desks from the back of the room) consistently wore a jumper in the office. She was the unfortunate one who was positioned right below the air conditioning vent. Needing to wear a jumper annoyed her and my guess is, she was perhaps not as ‘easy’ to work with, as she could have been. Simply moving her desk two metres back and beside another workmate solved the problem. She was a much happier individual, and not experiencing such extreme termperature fluctuations every time she moved from her desk for a tea-break.

It’s important to remember that even small things like a few degrees difference in temperature can have an adverse affect on people’s comfort and therefore relationship with others as well as work performance.

At the other end of the scale, a work station positioned in direct sunlight will be much warmer than the surrounding environment. True, it might be a delightful place to work during the winter months, but even the most warmth-loving individual can begin to suffer. (Also consider ‘glare’ issues).

Be aware that equipment can produce heat, raising the temperature in a particular area. Even a small room with a number of workers in it will contribute to a rise in temperature.

When reading temperatures, be sure to position the gauge (or thermometer) in a place that will not be affected by the cooling mechanism, eg. don’t have the air conditioning vent blowing directly onto the gauge as this will produce false readings.

Be sure to have appropriate ventilation; fresh air is vital to combatting fatigue and headaches.

Ventilation is measured by the movement of air and the rate of fresh air coming in. Air movement of less than 0.1 metres per second can cause “stuffy” workplaces.

 

 

We went looking for a book that explains how to win the temperature war – and could not find one. So we wrote one ourselves! Here is all the information you need to WIN THE OFFICE TEMPERATURE WAR – only $AU 9.90.

 

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (10)

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  1. Chris Wales says:

    Just a quick question does any one have a chart showing temperatures for the Hospiatlity industry. In particular I am after kitchen operating temperatures

    Chris

  2. Christine says:

    I was just wondering if it is acceptable to be made to work in a warehouse on a 43c day with only fans, the only airconditioning is in the canteen and the offices…The company is only offering a 5 min break to get a drink of water every two hours but you can go more often if needed and the usual tea breaks, I think it is unfair to work in these conditions.

  3. graeme says:

    christine did you ever find out what the maximum temperature the workplace has to be before you can shut up shop?? i’ve been looking but no luck so far. because i have the same problems as what you’ve just explained.

  4. Les Henley says:

    To both Christine and Graeme,

    Under current legislative regimes there is no prescriptive ‘maximum temperature’ that employees may be exposed to. This is due to the vast array of working conditions across industries and work activities in the modern world.

    In my last role I was OHS Manager in an iron foundry which often required employees to be exposed to molten iron in a furnace – the iron bath temperature can exceed 1400 degrees C – or to be exposed to the residual heat of a furnace during refurbishment activities. However, these employees were provided with personal protective clothing and work procedures that allowed them to rotate to minimise the duration of exposure to these conditions.

    In every different circumstance (industry/workplace/work activity) WorkCover NSW would expect the employer to undertake a risk assessment of the workplace, including the temperatures in the workplace that employees are exposed to. Then to develop a risk reduction program to ensure that the risk to health or safety of employees is minimised.

    Given that normal human body temperature is a nominal 37 degrees, and that various humans, following acclimatisation can withstand a range of environmental temperatures both above and below this (consider the arabian peoples in the mid-east and the eskimos in the arctic), the employer MUST identify the risks based on actual environmental temperature, expected duration of exposure and potential consequences of such exposure.

    Once the risk has been idenitifed and assessed, various controls may be employed to eliminate or minimise the risk of such exposure. These controls may include:
    1: engineered environmental controls such as air conditioning or ventilation fans,
    2: isolation controls such as isolation booths,
    3: administrative controls such as work management processes eg job rotation, and even
    4: personal protective equipment such as chiller vests and scarves. Only if these types of controls, either individually or collectively, failed to ensure the health and saftey of employees would an employer be expected to ‘eliminate exposure’ by ceasing work and sending employees home.

    Your relevant employers may not have undertaken this critical risk management process but they must do this before you can claim a ‘right’ to be sent home when temperatures go up (or down).

    Les Henley
    OHS and Compliance Manager
    Spotless

  5. admin says:

    Thank you so much Les – informative and well-written response. :)

  6. […] 5.Acceptable Workplace Temperatures | Safety Concepts christine did you ever find out what the maximum temperature the workplace has to be before you can shut up shop?? i’ve been looking but no luck so far. because i have the same problems as what you’ve just explained. … Workplace Health and Safety Information and OHS Resources for Australian Workers… http://safetyconcepts.com.au/270/acceptable-workplace-temperatures/ […]

  7. Bianca says:

    If these guidelines are not legally enforceable, what function do they have? I have an internal office with no window and no air conditioning. The temperature exceeds 24C for months on end. In fact, it exceeds 28C for months on end. It is so well insulated it stays hot over night. I get headaches and feel tired. I complain but nothing happens because it is OHS compliant (since OHS does not have prescribed air temperature). So, who enforces the guidelines? What function do they serve when employees ignore them?

  8. Les Henley says:

    Biance – I’m not sure which GUIDELINES you are referring to as ‘not enforceable’.
    In my reply above I refer to the requirement for employers to undertake and document a risk assessment. This is a legal obligation and is enforceable. It goes hand in glove with a legal obligation for consultation with affected employees. Whilst there are some differecnes in approach these 2 obligations are current in every jurisdiction of Australia and are being picked up in the new National Model WHS Act and Regulations.
    What is not specified in either is a ‘safe temperature’.

    Your description of your workplace illustrates my points above, that your working conditions are greatly different from those I described in the Foundry – hence making a ‘prescribed’ temperature limit somewhat difficult to fix to cover all workplaces.

    To address your specific situation, I believe you have at least 2 conditions that need to be addressed – temperature AND ventilation. If there is no airconditioning or mechanical ventilation process to refresh the atmosphere in your workspace you may be suffering as much, if not more, from oxygen deficiency as from temperature.

    Whilst there are no specified temperature levels, the Building Code of Australia (not law but may be referenced as evidence of compliance) establishes standards for ventilation of buildings.

    Given that the human body operates with a normal core temperature of 37 degrees, 24 – 28C is not necessarily unsafe so much as uncomfortable. I’m not sure of any reference but most airconditioning technicians will set A/c controls to around 23-24C for office spaces anyway.

    Now to establish the grounds that your employer can be held accountable for:
    1: They must ensure the workplace is safe and without risk to health – both temperature and ventilation go to affecting health.
    2: They must CONSULT with affected employees in the following process:
    3: They must identify the hazards – temperature (you say it ‘exceeds 24C and exceeds 28C but what is it actually?) and air quality testing should be undertaken to establish the ACTUAL conditions (safe oxygen levels must be between 19.5% and 23.5% and contaminants, such as CO2 from exhaled air, must be controlled to safe levels in the workspace atmosphere).
    4: They must assess the risk – any POTENTIAL for the ACTUAL conditions to affect health and safety and the LIKELY CONSEQUENCES must be assessedto determine the level of risk.
    5: Any UNACCEPTABLE risk must be eliminated or controlled.
    6: The whole process must be documented.

    If your employer does not have any OHS consultation process established (eg: OHS Reps or OHS Committee) and/or is unwilling to particpate in this process you have the option to contact the relevant ‘WorkCover’ in your state to seek assistance.
    Hope this is helpful.
    Les Henley

  9. Louise says:

    Just wondering if any guidelines exist around workers in industries like fruit picking, horticulture? We live in an area where temperatures regularly get up around 40+ degrees in summer and I’m wondering when it is reasonable to say that it is too hot to be standing out in the sun for the typical 8 hour day. Obviously things like sun wise clothing, sunscreen, lots of water, etc etc apply here but still wondering if there are any guidelines you could reference for this scenario. Thanks.

  10. johnny says:

    I am sitting just under the air conditioning and I am freezing, catch cold etc. and when I ask my superiors to reduce the stgrenght they just say it must be the same for all the floor…

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