Updated: Dec 20, 2021
Winter is on its way and a common issue (and often a daily debate) is what the workplace temperature should be set at. This result in this debate is normally someone googling “what should a office temperature be set at?” or someone declares “it’s a health and safety issue if its not set at XX degrees"
We are here to explain how to settle the argument once and for all, and guess
what not everyone will be happy with the answer...
There is no set temperature stated as a minimum or maximum within the Health
and Safety at Work Act 2015.
So stop blaming health and safety!
However, you can assess the workplace to help find the perfect temperature of a
It is difficult to give a maximum or minimum temperature for working based on
air temperature alone. Air temperature only tells part of the story when it comes
to the effects of exposure to high and low temperatures on people.
People are affected by temperature depend on a number of factors such as:
• Exposure to the sun or other radiant heat sources
• Amount of air movement
• Work demands - are you physical in your work or are you still?
• What clothing or PPE is worn?
• Personal health factors and tolerances
Thermal Comfort, Thermal Discomfort and Thermal Stress
Lets look at the differences of the terms Thermal Comfort, Thermal Discomfort
and Thermal Stress.
Thermal Comfort describes whether a person feels not too hot, not too cold
or just right. Thermal comfort is subjective. A environment right for one person
may be too hot for another person.
By managing Thermal Comfort you are likely to improve the morale and
productivity of your workers. People working in uncomfortable environments
are more likely to behave unsafely, as their ability to make decisions or perform
manual tasks deteriorates.
The following temperature ranges should provide thermal comfort for most
people in an indoor environment.
Sedentary Work 19 - 24C 18 - 22C
Physical Work 16 - 21C 16 - 19C
Thermal Discomfort is when a person feels too hot or too cold but it is not
extreme enough for them to suffer illness or injury as a direct result.
General discomfort is when a person’s whole body feels uncomfortable.
Local discomfort is when only one part of a person’s body feels uncomfortable, such
as their hands or feet.
Because of varying personal factors (sex, age, weight, fitness and medical
conditions) people can respond differently to the same thermal conditions. It
may not be possible or practicable to achieve thermal comfort for all workers all
of the time. Many workers who feel thermal discomfort could also be tired and
irritable, less productive or make errors as a result.
People who have thermal discomfort should have personal options available
to them such as layering clothing or reducing physical activity to reduce their
Temperature at a workplace needs to be managed like any other potential
hazard. Identify any hazards associated with the exposure to high or low
temperatures, then eliminate the risk those hazards create as is reasonably
If the risk cannot be eliminated use substitution, isolate (engineering controls)
to minimise, administrative controls and lastly personal protective equipment
For example: a workshop gets very hot in temperature for 1 month a year.
Suggested controls are:
• Install air conditioning units
• Fit fans and vents into the roof
• Provide portable fans
The PCBU chooses portable fans, as the risk is only present for one month a year.
The cost of fitting a fixed engineering solution is high compared to fans that can
be brought in and removed for a hazard that is present for one month a year.
Thermal Stress is more severe than thermal discomfort. It happens when the
thermal environment is so extreme that the body begins to struggle to maintain
a stable core temperature. It can result in heat-related or cold-related illness or
Assessing Thermal Control
Assessing thermal control at your workplace can be as simple as:
• Asking your workers how comfortable they are with current temperatures
• Making your own environmental observations
• Assess all workers using the below scale:
To complete a thorough assessment, get all workers to complete the scale daily
for 2 weeks - a month, at the same time of day. Note the weather conditions,
room temperature and the activities carried out at the time.
This information should provide you with enough information data to make an
informed decision on the room temperature setting... well at least until next
However, even our team thinks this is being over the top to settle a temperature
Need reasonable health and safety advice? Our team are available now. Please contact us if you require any advice or check out our website https://www.ohsconsultants.nz