How to keep on top of air conditioning health & safety risks

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How to keep on top of air conditioning health & safety risks

air conditioning health & safety

Autumn is on its way and the nip in the air has arrived.  As the air temperatures outside start to slide, so woo will any uncontrolled air temperatures in the workplace. And as they decrease, the more employers and hospitality business owners need to keep on top of air conditioning Health & Safety risks.

As we said in an earlier blog post, health and safety has evolved over the years to protect everyone in the workplace as a result of actual incidents in which people have been harmed. Business owners  can’t take chances with it, or someone may be injured and they could be prosecuted.

Regulations

Indoor workplace temperatures are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a “reasonable” temperature in the workplace.

While not defining a specific target temperature, the Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16°C. If an employee’s work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13°C. While these temperatures are not absolute legal requirements, employers have a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.

Risk assessment

In addition to the Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees and take action where necessary and reasonably practicable.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) doesn’t have specific guidance for people working in a space below the 13°C normally regarded as a minimum for work environment, but you should be fine if you work in accordance with British or European Standards or can show compliance by other means.

British Standards such as BS EN SO 15743: Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Cold workplaces. Risk assessment and management and BS 7915: Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Guide to design and evaluation of working practices in cold indoor environments are a good starting point.

‘Thermal comfort’

One of the key ideas in the legislation is that of ‘thermal comfort’. It describes whether a person feels too hot or too cold.

Environmental factors (such as humidity) combine with personal factors, like your health and clothing – and work-related factors such as how physically demanding your work is to influence your thermal comfort.

Thermal comfort is not measured by room temperature, but by the number of employees complaining of thermal discomfort, so as factors beyond temperature come into play the best you can reasonably do is to achieve a thermal environment that satisfies the majority of people in the workplace.

Why thermal comfort matters

By managing thermal comfort effectively, you can combat lethargy and improve morale and productivity – another of our past blogs explained the negative effect on peoples’ productivity if they’re too hot or cold – as well as improving health and safety.

That’s because people working in uncomfortably hot or cold environments are more likely to behave unsafely because their ability to make decisions and/or perform manual tasks deteriorates. For example, they may take short cuts to get out of cold environments, might not wear personal protective equipment properly in hot environments – increasing the risks or their ability to concentrate on a task may start to drop off, which increases the risk of an accident or an error.

‘Cold stress’

Now that we’re entering the cooler part of the year, your focus will need to be on ensuring the air doesn’t get so cold people suffer from ‘cold stress’. Apart from the physical discomfort for staff and customers of being cold and potential legal action against you if it’s extreme, so how do you manage the health and safety risk?

What you must provide

The regulations for indoor workplaces say you must provide:

  • A “reasonable working temperature” in workrooms  – at least 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work (unless other laws require lower temperatures)
  • Local heating or cooling where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom (e.g. hot or cold manufacturing processes)
  • Heating systems which don’t give off dangerous or offensive levels of fume into the workplace
  • Thermal clothing and rest facilities where necessary for excessive temperature areas e.g. for ‘hot work’ or cold stores
  • Sufficient space in workrooms

Automatic compliance

Many people forget that a good, well-planned, professionally-installed and regularly maintained air conditioning system can both heat as well as cool – ensuring the “thermal comfort” of most people in the area it covers (some people with health conditions need extra personal measures).

A good system will also ensure you comply with the requirement to reach the legal target temperature zone by the end of the first hour of work.

It will also automatically manage two of the other three environmental factors which affect thermal comfort – air speed and humidity.

Reliable heating from an air conditioning system can also make sure electrical or mechanical services you rely on don’t malfunction or degrade quickly.

Most importantly for service industries, they can create a welcoming atmosphere for customers, especially if you want them to stay for as long as possible to order more food or drink.

Pressurised system

Finally, once you have a quality, well-planned and professionally-installed air conditioning system, the final health and safety risk you have to manage is to ensure that the pressurised system of gases it uses for heat exchange don’t become a safety risk in themselves.

As we’ve explained before, HSE says the principal causes of incidents are: poor equipment and/or system design; poor equipment maintenance; an unsafe system of work; operator error or poor training/supervision; poor installation and inadequate repairs or modifications.

The simplest way to manage all of those risks effectively is to use an experienced professional supplier to design, install and maintain your air conditioning.

That way you can in the knowledge that the sliding temperatures won’t end up becoming a health and safety problem to add to your workload.

For more details of the advice summarised here, go to the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk.

 

SmartAir Solutions is an experienced independent air conditioning and refrigeration specialist servicing the industrial, commercial and marine sectors across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Dundee. For more information please contact us directly.