The Legal Requirements for Workplace Ventilation
Under current legislation, employers in the United Kingdom are required to ensure that all enclosed workplaces are sufficiently ventilated, in order to provide a healthy working environment. Failure to provide the required level of ventilation can lead to a number of health problems for workers, including headaches, tiredness, itchy skin and eye irritation; symptoms which are collectively known as SBS (Sick Building Syndrome).
This article covers the full extent of legal requirements for workplace ventilation in the United Kingdom and explains why it is so important that ventilation systems meet the required legal standard.
Under the terms of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, employers in the United Kingdom are required to ensure that an appropriate amount of fresh or purified air enters the workplace in order to provide oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. This serves to provide fresh air and remove or dilute humid air, allowing employees to breathe more easily.
Ventilation can be supplied through either natural or mechanical methods. In small offices or similar environments, windows may offer enough fresh air. However, in larger workplaces, including factories and warehouses, ventilation will usually need to be supplied via mechanical means in order to meet the requirements.
In addition to ensuring an adequate flow of fresh air, workplaces are obligated to provide an environment with an appropriate temperature. Legislation covers both the supply of heat and the supply of air conditioning, depending on what is required. Yet, this requirement is somewhat complicated, as different people can experience different levels of comfort when working at the exact same temperature.
Guidelines suggest that workplaces where most of the work is sedentary, such as an office, should be kept at temperatures of at least 16°C, while work which requires a greater level of physical exertion should take place in an environment kept to at least 13°C.
Hot and Cold Environments
The issue of temperature is further complicated by the fact that some occupations are exempt, as they will require workers to spend significant time working in temperatures which are either higher or lower than the guidelines mentioned above. Examples of these jobs include work in kitchens, work in cold storage areas and work which takes place outside.
In such instances, employers are legally required to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to ensure that the physical well-being of employees is not compromised. This may include the installation of fans or heaters, the supply of suitable clothing for work in the environment in question, or the provision of regular breaks away from the environment.