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Cold Weather Working – Your Responsibilities for SME Owners

We’ve seen some severely cold weather here in the UK over the past couple of week – the Beast from the East came storming in, bringing with it snow, sleet and ice and it’s been lowering temperatures across the land.  The Beast was closely followed by Storm Emma and snow warnings were upgraded to Red Alert status in Scotland for the first time ever, with warnings of widespread disruption and risk to life.

As an employer, you have certain responsibilities towards your workforce, and the temperature in the workplace falls under health and safety law.  While there is no legal minimum temperature for the workplace, employers are required to ensure that heat levels are “reasonable”, which guidance suggests should be around 16°C, or 13°C if the job involves manual labour.

Whilst there is no legal requirement to meet these temperature guidelines, employers are expected to take into consideration the individual circumstances of their workplace and decide what would be deemed a “comfortable” temperature.  As an employer you should carry out a risk assessment which includes issues such as keeping the workplace at an appropriate temperature to ensure that there is no risk to the health and safety of your employees.

If you find that employees are concerned about the low temperatures in the workplace, then you’ll need to consider whether your current approach to workplace temperature is adequate under your duty of care to your employees.  This means that if several staff members are complaining about how cold it is in the workplace, you will need to act upon this and find a method of raising the temperature.

It’s also worth noting that providing the means to make hot drinks can go a long way towards keeping staff warmer – you may need to allow for extra work breaks (or allow staff to have a hot drink at their desk or work station if this is practicable) to help workers to keep warm. 

Jobs that require regular work in a cold environment (such as walk-in freezers and cold rooms) can be a relief in the summer months, but not so much fun in the winter.  Where possible, food refrigeration should be kept separated form areas where employees are working, but this is not always possible, so measures should be taken to mitigate the impact on workers.  Some examples of solutions would be heating workstations or rest areas, providing the appropriate thermal clothing for employees, rotating duties so that employees don’t have to work for too long in cold temperatures.

When it comes to outdoor work, you have no control over the temperature of the working area but, as an employer, you’re still obligated to consider ways of reducing the impact that cold weather has on the health and comfort of your employees.  This can include the supply of warm work clothing, waterproof clothing and footwear, etc.  If you have staff working out of doors, you should provide warm rest areas and hot drinks, making sure that breaks are taken at appropriate intervals (these may need to be more frequent during the current cold snap).  If possible, try to undertake certain tasks or types of work in more clement weather so that employees are not exposed to extreme cold temperatures.