Working up a sweat: no aircon for most indoors staff

July 30th, 2014 Category: Commercial

This summer has brought some extremely hot weather to the UK, particularly in the south. Yet, despite the fact that many of us have been working in temperatures of up to 30 degrees C, most office-based staff are still coping with workplaces that lack air conditioning.

A survey by VoucherCodesPro suggests that while 17 per cent of people who work in an office or other building are able to reap the benefits of air conditioning during particularly hot weather, two-thirds (66 per cent) cannot enjoy a similar respite from the heat thanks to there being no air conditioning systems installed in their place of work.

Loss of productivity

Employers who can’t offer a cool working environment may well be losing out, as three-quarters of those polled said they feel their productivity levels have taken a hit as a direct result of the hot weather. Four of the five top reasons for this were health-related, with 43 per cent citing headaches brought on by the heat and one in ten respondents blaming perspiration and feeling generally too hot.

Complaints relating to hot working conditions can pose a headache in themselves for facilities managers who are constantly trying to balance the need for a healthy and productive working environment against the harsh reality of tight financial budgets and corporate cost-cutting.

What can employers do?

Earlier this month, the TUC urged employers in the south of England in particular to relax dress codes to ensure employees were as comfortable as possible when temperatures were predicted to soar into the low 30s.

There is currently no legal upper limit for workplace temperatures, whereas there is a threshold of 16 degrees C below which temperatures shouldn’t fall. The TUC is pushing for an upper limit of 30 degrees C to be introduced, with companies being obliged to put in place certain cooling measures when the temperature reaches 24 degrees C.

General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “So long as the UK has no legal maximum working temperature, many workers will be working in conditions that are not just personally unpleasant, but will also be affecting their productivity.”

“Making sure that everyone has access to fans, portable air conditioning units and cold drinking water should help reduce the heat in offices, factories, shops, hospitals, schools and other workplaces across the country,” she added.

Out of the office

The situation is a little more complicated for organisations where staff are required to work outdoors, especially for those who are legally obliged to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as construction workers.

Lee Wright of PPE supplier Slingsby recommends that employers think about how best to keep their personnel cool when buying protective clothing.

“Consider the materials the product is made from, the style and fit, as well as the overall design. There are a huge range of innovative materials to choose from that are specifically designed to keep the wearer cool and dry while being tough and long-lasting,” he said.

An extra consideration

Even those companies that do have air conditioning need to ensure the settings are at a comfortable level. Research by the International Facilities Management Association suggests that 58 per cent of facilities managers receive complaints about air conditioning making the workplace too cold – not that much lower than the 66 per cent who have fielded complaints about the office being too hot.