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Controlling Workplace Temperature and Assessing Thermal Comfort

Are you or your employees uncomfortable with the temperature in your workplace? You may be surprised to know that it involves more than just air temperature. Environmental factors such as humidity and personal factors such as clothing influence thermal comfort—and can also affect a person’s state of mind in terms of whether he or she feels too hot or too cold.
In light of the record-breaking mid-July heat wave, employers should consider whether their employees are comfortable with their workplace’s thermal environment to ensure comfort and safety. If employees are not comfortable in their thermal environment, they are more likely to act unsafely in response to their discomfort. That is when unnecessary risks emerge.
An uncomfortable thermal environment drives workers to acclimatise themselves in unsafe ways, such as taking shortcuts to get out of cold environments or not wearing personal protective equipment due to excessive heat. Thermal discomfort can also cause a lack of concentration and subsequent mistakes. As an employer, you should be aware of these unsafe measures and act accordingly to fix their root cause.
You can help mitigate the risk of an uncomfortable thermal environment by knowing the six basic factors affecting thermal comfort. Personal factors include the following:
• Clothing insulation—the ability of clothing to insulate heat
• Work rate/metabolic heat—the heat people produce as they carry out physical activity
The environmental factors that affect thermal comfort include the following:
• Air temperature—the air temperature surrounding workers’ bodies
• Radiant temperature—the heat that radiates from a warm object
• Air velocity—how fast the air moves across people’s bodies
• Humidity—the amount of water vapour in the air
Once you understand these six basic factors, you can measure your workers’ thermal comfort level using the Thermal Comfort Checklist found at www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/thermal/measuring.htm.
Based on your findings, you can manage thermal comfort using administrative controls such as adjusting work schedules to coincide with more comfortable times of day, engineering controls such as air conditioning and heating, and generic controls, such as changing the dress code to allow workers to adapt their clothing when possible. More tips for managing thermal comfort can be found at www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/thermal/controlling.htm.

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