Most employers are aware that they are responsible for ensuring workers are comfortable in the workplace. However, many don’t realize that this also extends to a comfortable indoor environment. If a work space has cold or hot spots or droughts, employees will not be able to focus on their work.
This is called thermal comfort and it is not just related to the temperature. By thermal temperature we mean a number of personal and environmental factors that impact comfort. Factors which make up a thermal environment include humidity, air speed, radiating temperature, insulation from clothing and body heat.
Therefore, thermal discomfort is when your workers start to feel uncomfortable. They may feel too cold or too hot even if they don’t fall sick because of the temperature variations. However, even if they don’t experience ill health, the frustration and fatigue that sets in can make them lose focus or become disoriented.
In excessive conditions, frequent drops in temperature can lead to hypothermia and poor circulation while excessive heat can cause dehydration and heatstroke.
Besides affecting worker health, lack of thermal comfort in indoor work spaces can reduce employee morale and productivity. It can also lead to costly mistakes and absenteeism which just bad for business.
Think about it. Can you really work in a freezing or sweltering office for 8 hours straight without getting frustrated? The bottom line is that thermal comfort keeps workers happy and happy employees are productive employees.
People who work in hot or cold workspaces cannot function properly and make a number of mistakes as well. This can also lead to the following consequences:
- Employees cut corners in their work to speed up to get out of a cold/hot work space faster.
- Workers ignore personal protective equipment (PPE) or don’t wear the gear properly because they feel too hot.
As their employer it is your responsibility to ensure your workers are aware of the risks involved and understand the importance of ensuring a comfortable work space.
However, thermal comfort can be difficult to achieve with traditional HVAC systems in the beginning of your efforts. An air conditioning system may freeze some workers, make some comfortable and have little to no effect on others in the office during summer. Similarly in winter, the heating unit may not warm up a room sufficiently forcing your staff members to pack on the layers while working.
Neither case is comfortable or healthy for employees and is disastrous for productivity. The aim is to maintain an indoor temperature that everyone can benefit from and remain comfortable in. An acceptable zone for thermal comfort lies between 13°C (for sedentary activities) and 30°C (for strenuous activities).
Before implementing any of the solutions to increase comfort in the workplace take your workers’ thermal comfort into account first. This should be part of a comprehensive health and safety evaluation. If the internal temperature of a room is proven to be hazardous or existing precautions are not doing a good job, take action to replace it and control the risks.
During the risk assessment and evaluation phase, ask your workers or safety representatives about what you can do to ensure their comfort. Ask them if they have ever felt lightheaded, disoriented, have difficulty concentrating or handling equipment. Before that look up the ill effects of a hot and cold work environment so don’t miss any warning signs. The answers will help you figure out what you need to do to enhance the comfort level of the office.
If you are unsure as to how to go about this, consider consulting professional ergonomists or occupational safety hygienists. They are trained and experienced enough to give you appropriate solutions according to the workspace you have.
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