Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Cold Facts about Hot Offices

As winter loosens its grip once again and we all look forward to warmer weather, we should not lose sight of the significant health hazard associated with working in high temperatures.

The Health & Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) refusal to set a 'maximum workplace temperature' surprises many, not least the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC has persistantly called for a maximum workplace temperature of 30 º C, or 27 º C for people doing strenuous work. 

What is "reasonable comfort"? 
The HSE simply insists that employers abide by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and its accompanying code of practice and guidance. This requires employers to provide “reasonable comfort”.

The decision not to set a maximum temperature was taken to compensate for some workplaces that may have high temperatures due to the nature of the industry and processes involved, such as bakeries or foundries. While it may be impractical to require every workplace to comply with a maximum temperature, it may be easier and more sensible to introduce it for office environments.

The HSE's refusal to set a maximum working temperature may also stem from the Government not wanting to encourage the use of mechanical cooling and air conditioning, which would significantly increase energy consumption and accelerate global warming.

The Workplace Regulations instead recommend that better ventilation and solar shading systems are applied to buildings that are prone to over-heating in the summer. This sensible advice needs to be pressed home to protect the welfare of workers and to ensure that employers and landlords can be held to account.

Effective solar shading can readily solve the problem of high office temperatures without the costs and environmental damage associated with air conditioning. 

Air conditioning systems consume vast amounts of electricity! 
According to one report, the refrigeration industry accounts for 15% of the output of the national grid! Electricity generation produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming. So the cooling industry is heavily implicated in this climate hazard too.

Solar shading systems such as curtains, blinds, aerofoil fins, and louvres – which control solar heat gain to keep offices cool in Summer – are environmentally benign because they do not use electricity and do not emit dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals. They also reduce unpleasant glare without obscuring windows, providing office occupants with a comfortable working environment. And they free occupants to open windows if they so wish, something that air conditioning prohibits.

Solar shading can help to cut costs 
The application of solar shading, in contrast with air conditioning alone, will help provide significant cost savings to building owners and occupiers. It is relatively quick and easy to install, even while the building is occupied. Solar shading works passively, so consumes no electricity, and once installed, solar shading is virtually maintenance free and requires very little servicing. 

The case for solar shading is compelling for new build and refurbishment projects. If designed and installed correctly, it can virtually elliminate the need for air conditioning. Workers will feel the benefit from a cool, comfortable, naturally lit environment, throughout the year. All we need now is for the HSE to introduce a maximum temperature for UK offices, and then everyone can enjoy the benefit of solar shading. 

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