The term ‘thermal comfort’ describes a person’s state of mind in terms of whether they feel too hot or too cold.
Environmental factors (such as humidity and sources of heat in the workplace) combine with personal factors (ie your clothing) and work-related factors (how physically demanding your work is) to influence your ‘thermal comfort’.
This website looks at what we mean by thermal comfort in the workplace and what the law says. It provides guidance for employers to help them manage their employees’ workplace thermal comfort.
What is thermal comfort?
Thermal comfort is very difficult to define as you need to take into account a range of environmental, work-related and personal factors when deciding what makes a comfortable workplace temperature.
The best that you can realistically hope to achieve is a thermal environment that satisfies the majority of people in the workplace. Thermal comfort is not measured by room temperature, but by the number of employees complaining of thermal discomfort. To better understand why room temperature alone is not a valid indicator of thermal comfort, see the six basic factors.
Why is thermal comfort important?
By managing thermal comfort you are likely to improve morale and productivity as well as improving health and safety. People working in uncomfortably hot and cold environments are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make decisions and/or perform manual tasks deteriorates. For example:
- people may take short cuts to get out of cold environments
- employees might not wear personal protective equipment properly in hot environments increasing the risks
- an employee’s ability to concentrate on a given task may start to drop off, which increases the risk of errors occurring
As an employer you should be aware of these risks and make sure the underlying reasons for these unsafe behaviours are understood and actively discouraged and/or prevented.
Adapting to the thermal environment
People adapt their behaviour to cope with their thermal environment, eg adding or removing clothing, unconscious changes in posture, choice of heating, moving to or away from cooling/heat sources etc.
The problems arise when this choice (to remove a jacket, or move away from heat source) is removed, and people are no longer able to adapt. In some instances the environment within which people work is a product of the processes of the job they are doing, so they are unable to adapt to their environment.
Next: The six basic factors