How cold does it need to be before you’re legally allowed to go home from work in Northern Ireland?

As winter approaches, temperatures are beginning to dip and the first flurries of snow are starting to hit
As winter approaches, temperatures are beginning to dip and the first flurries of snow are starting to hit

As winter approaches, temperatures are beginning to dip and the first flurries of snow are starting to hit.

But how cold does it legally need to be before you’re allowed to go home from work?

Here’s everything you need to know about cold weather at work and your legal rights explained.

Is there a legal limit or how cold it can be before you can go home?

Unfortunately, there’s not a strict legal limit for how cold the temperature can be before you’re able to go home from work.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 state that “during working hours the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable.”

“Guidance states that the temperature in the workplace should normally be at least 16C, unless the work requires physical effort in which case the temperature should be at least 13C.

“The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. A workroom is a room where people normally work for more than short periods.”

‘Reasonable comfort’

Regarding maintaining a comfortably working environment, “employers should try to ensure that the temperature at the workplace is pleasant, rather than too hot or too cold,” notes the HSENI (Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland).

“Employers should also try to ensure that the atmosphere is dry rather than damp or humid.

“The best that can be realistically achieved is a thermal environment which satisfies the majority of people in the workplace, or put more simply, 'reasonable comfort'”.

There is no legal minimum temperatures for those working outdoors, but employers are expected to rely on thermal risk assessments to maintain a reasonable level of thermal comfort and controls such as job rotation, more regular breaks and cold weather clothing.

The availability of a thermometer is required by law, so that workers can check the temperature in any workplace inside the building.

Hannah Parsons of DAS Law explains, “If a large number of employees bring concerns about temperature to their employer’s attention, they will have to consider whether the current approach to keeping the workplace warm is adequate as part of their ‘duty of care’”.