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How to Manage Thermal Comfort in the Workplace

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 states that employers are required to ensure, so far as reasonably practical, the health and safety of workers, and provide an environment that is without risks to worker health and safety. The temperature in the workplace is an often overlooked health and safety consideration that deserves attention as the risks of ignoring it are considerable. Fortunately, Ulti Group can help take the heat (or cold) off!


What is Thermal Comfort?

Imagine working in an area with ovens or another heat source that makes you feel like you’re too hot to keep working? That makes you dehydrated, tired and sleepy. Or picture working in a blast freezer or chiller that makes you so cold you can’t seem to keep yourself warm? Imagine trying to be productive and alert in either environment.

These extremes of temperature in the workplace is what Thermal Comfort is all about; whether a person feels too hot, too cold, or just right – a little bit like Goldilocks! Being “thermally comfortable” at work is an important factor that employers need to take into consideration.


Why is Thermal Comfort important?

Everyone knows how it feels to be either too hot or too cold. It’s not great. You’re either sluggish or jittery – either way, you are unlikely to be at your best. By managing thermal comfort in your workplace, you can improve the morale and productivity of your workers, which in turn can improve the health and safety and overall performance of your company.

Essentially, people working in uncomfortably hot or cold environments are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make rational decisions or perform manual tasks is impaired, and shortcuts and health and safety practices are not followed.

Whilst this work environment may not directly cause illness or injury, it does have many disadvantages, causing employees to feel tired and irritable, potentially less productive and more likely to make mistakes or not wear correct PPE with their work.

The following temperature ranges provide thermal comfort for most people in an indoor environment.*

Summer Winter
Sedentary Work 19-24°C 18-22°C
Physical Work 16-21°C 16-19°C

*These values assume:

  • –– Workers are wearing seasonally appropriate clothing
  • –– The air speed is about 0.1–0.2 metres per second (without creating a draught where sedentary work occurs)
  • –– Humidity levels are normal (40-70%)
  • –– Workers are not directly exposed to any radiant heat sources.


What is Thermal Stress?

Thermal stress is much 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. Exposure to these conditions cause skin temperatures to either rise or drop, and in time, the body’s core temperature deviates from the healthy average of 37°C, becoming unable to either cool or warm itself. This then results in heat-related or cold-related illness or injury, which can sometimes be fatal if ignored.

Heat-related illness and injuries are caused by factors such as:

  • High air temperature and humidity
  • Intense work rate
  • Unsuitable clothing or PPE for the conditions

They are a risk especially when working outdoors in summer or in indoor environments with particularly high humidity or radiant heat (such as kitchens, laundries or foundries).

Cold-related illnesses and injuries can happen when workers are exposed to:

  •  Low air temperature
  • High or cold wind/airflow
  • Dampness/water (water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than dry air).

As a result, cold-related illnesses and injuries are risks especially when working outdoors in cold weather or working in artificially cold environments, such as refrigerated areas, and in wet environments, illness and injury can happen at even moderate temperatures.

How can Thermal Comfort be influenced in a work environment?

When most people think about how comfortable a work environment is, they think of the air temperature. However, there are many influences which affect how thermally comfortable a person may feel while working.

Humidity – the moisture content of the air, is another important influence on thermal comfort. Ultimately, having a relative humidity of between 40% and 70% is ideal. Any higher and sweat will not evaporate as quickly, slowing a worker’s ability to stay cool and making them feel hotter.

Radiant Heat – emitted from anything that’s hot, such as sunlight, furnaces, dryers, and ovens also has an impact. In time it will heat the air, but will heat people and solid surfaces nearby more quickly.

Air Speed – air movement such as draughty or windy conditions will cool a person. This can help cool people in hot situations, but will chill them in cold situations.

Physical Activity – as it increases, so does the body’s heat production. In a cool situation, physical activity can help to warm a person but in a hot situation, physical activity can make a person feel even hotter.

10 Ways To  Manage Thermal Comfort at Work

The design of a workplace can be instrumental in controlling thermal comfort. There are a number of considerations you should take into account to help you manage  this:

  1. Position heat-producing or cold-producing plant away from where workers will be working or taking breaks by putting plant in separate, ventilated rooms, positioning workstations away from radiant heat sources, and shielding workers from plant using heat screens.
  2. Construct new buildings with heat or cold control measures ‘built in’ (such as good ventilation, insulation, and shielding).
  3. Provide personal fans for workers, to help manage localised high temperatures.
  4. Build in systems for measuring the thermal environment which can be used to assess if there is a risk.
  5. Purchase plant that gives off the least amount of heat, or is suitably shielded, to reduce the amount of radiant heat workers are exposed to.
  6. Purchase plant that is designed to protect against cold injury. For example, machines designed so they can be used without operators having to remove gloves, or machines with metal handles covered by thermal insulation material.
  7. Give workers time to cool off or warm up by scheduling more frequent breaks and encouraging workers to keep hydrated by providing cool drinking water.
  8. Provide workers with appropriate PPE for the temperature and work environment they are in.
  9. Introduce mechanical aids (lifting aids etc) that reduce the physical demands on workers in hot environments and rotate cold and hot tasks.
  10. Make sure workers know what options are available to them to help them manage their own thermal comfort.

Revolution Fans provide year-round comfort for employees, customers or other visitors to your facility. While they help keep people cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, they can also help reduce the chance of a heat stress and help eliminate illness caused by improving indoor air quality in “sick” buildings.

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When temperature control is important, speed and insulation are key. The Ulti-Roll Frigo 2 Door is a unique freezer door design, having two curtains that rise together and are driven by one motor. The curtains have a 290mm air pocket between them, into which hot air is emitted, to facilitate effective insulation between the inside and outside temperatures of a room.

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High speed bi-parting freezer doors maintain 100% insulation with 150mm thick panels and seals on all four sides, working effectively to keep the cold in and the warm out. Couple this with short cycle times and your energy expenditure will decrease rapidly.

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Insulated sectional panel doors which rise overhead, providing excellent thermal, hygiene and acoustic control – the perfect solution to a dock doorway.

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For an informative guide on Working in Extreme Heat for businesses, click below.

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