Discriminatory Air Conditioning?

 26 August 2015

The monthly science journal, Nature Climate Change, have published research that shows air conditioning units are designed for the body temperature and metabolism of men. The 1960’s model upon which modern air conditioning units are still derived, was based upon a 40 year old, 11 stone male. Due to the contrasting metabolic rates of males and females, there is a difference in temperature preference between the sexes of 4 degrees Celsius – which is a sizeable amount. Given the workplace politics that often arise from debates over air-con, this research may be worth bearing in mind!

Workplace temperatures are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. These do not actually specify an absolute legal requirement with regards to minimum or maximum temperatures. Guidance suggests that temperatures for offices should be at least 16 degrees Celsius whereas at the upper end of the scale, no specific figure is suggested. The Code of Practice simply states that the temperature should provide “reasonable comfort”.

Whilst there will inevitably be disagreements over the temperature of a workplace (which may be exacerbated by potentially sexist air-conditioning units!), the only obligation employers are under is to provide a “reasonable” temperature. Having said this, any complaints about the temperature should not be ignored. This is particularly pertinent where certain employees may be affected more than others – for instance, elderly or pregnant individuals. Taking all reasonable measures, such as supplying drinking water and increasing ventilation, will be sufficient to ensure that you have met your obligations.


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