Workplace temperatures need to be impact-assessed
An employer’s responsibility for employees’ health also extends to the temperature at the workplace.
Problems caused by heat, cold or drafts are to be noted and entered in the occupational safety and health action plan.
The annual occupational safety and health action plan should also contain actions to improve thermal conditions at the workplace.
Occupational health care also has to evaluate thermal conditions and their effect on health
• in the workplace report compiled by occupational health care
• in employees’ pre-recruitment medical examinations
• at workplaces where temperatures are a health stress factor, this should also be a factor in pre-recruitment medical examinations when assessing an employee’s suitability for the job
• in other periodical occupational health care examinations.
Occupational health care also makes recommendations regarding pauses, protective clothing and hazard prevention.
Temperature limit values and temperature recommendations
Thermal conditions must maintain people’s thermal balance and comfort. Besides temperature, thermal conditions consist of, among others, humidity, air circulation (draft) and heat radiation. Other important factors include the nature and arduousness of the work, how it is performed and the clothing.
Guideline values have been produced for temperature and air circulation depending on the stress level of the work:
light sedentary work 21-25 °C e.g. checkout work, office work
light work 19-23 °C e.g. shelf stacking and picking, small goods
semi-arduous work 17-21 °C e.g. warehouse work, salesperson’s work
arduous work 12-17 °C e.g. lifting heavy loads by hand,
The recommended relative air humidity is 30 - 70%.
Working in hot conditions
In summer most service sector employees suffer from hot surroundings. Non-existent or ineffective air conditioning is common in shops, offices and warehouses. In restaurants and canteen kitchens heat is a year-round problem, with temperatures rising above 40 °C.
Working at high temperatures strains the body. The heart beats faster and is under strain. Common symptoms include fatigue, headache and nausea.
Employees can themselves reduce heat strain by choosing light, loose-fitting clothes suitable for their work. It is important to ensure the body’s fluid and salt balance. If dehydration is not remedied, the temperature of the internal organs rises and dehydration puts the bloodstream under stress. Without corrective actions, this can lead to heat cramps, fainting and even heat stroke. Heat also impairs mental performance and increases propensity to accidents.
Actions in hot conditions
It is an employer’s responsibility to make sure that the temperature at the workplace remains below +28 °C when the outside temperature is over +25 °C.
Temporary relief can be provided by e.g. fans, if higher temperatures are restricted to a few very hot days. If temperatures stay higher for longer, longer-term solutions need to be found. Mechanical ventilation that blows cold air into the working area is the most effective method. If using a fan, it should be positioned carefully so as to avoid drafts and the related hazards. Proper insulation of heat sources also reduces temperatures significantly.
If, despite the actions taken, the temperature at the workplace is above +28 °C, the number of pauses should be increased.
- It is recommended to take pauses of 10 - 15 min per hour.
- If the temperature is below 33 °C, work is done for 50 min followed by a pause of 10 min.
- If the temperature is above 33 °C, work is done for 45 min followed by a pause of 15 min.
If the temperature goes above 33 °C in arduous physical work, special protective actions need to be taken. These include assessing the employee’s risk of heat-related illnesses, using special protective equipment and regular pauses. Technical solutions involving ventilation and insulating heat sources are of course the highest priority.
Working in cold conditions
Many types of service sector work are done in cold conditions, both outdoors and indoors.
Outside work is done in many warehouses, in facility services and ski resorts. Examples of indoor work in cold conditions include filling freezers, working in milk rooms and cold stores and handling meat.
In both cases employees also sometimes have to move from warm to cold areas, which puts the body under particular stress.
Cold-related ailments generally start to appear at temperatures below 10 °C. Cold is known to impair the functioning of the respiratory, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems and to increase work stress. Mild to moderate cooling can impair hand function, and intense cooling impairs all types of functioning. Joint and muscle complaints are more common if working in cold conditions for periods of years compared to similar work in warm conditions.
Drafts are typically a problem in “shopfront work” at checkouts and in kiosks and also in many warehouses and offices. Employees should provide appropriate extra clothing for this type of work that is easy to put on and take off.
Clothing is often the only individual means of protection. Thermal insulation of the cold touch surfaces of tools and machinery may also be relevant. Drafts can be prevented using various types of screens or fan heaters to heat the work position. When using heaters care needs to be taken with fire safety.
Cold can also be prevented by shortening the exposure time by pausing work, e.g. 50 minutes of cold work and 10 minutes of other work. Working time in cold conditions can be reduced by various working arrangements. Waiting periods should be spent in warm areas, and there should be a drying room for damp workwear.
Rules on working in cold conditions in the collective agreement
PAM collective agreements do not contain provisions on excess heat, but several agreements contain wage bonuses for working in cold conditions. See more here.