Is your workplace too hot or too cold?
Getting a chilly reception at work? Or does your job have you feeling hot under the collar?
We’ve all worked in places that are either too hot or too cold. A survey shows that heat and cold are the top two complaints for office workers. And studies prove what is a matter of common sense to most employees: if it’s too frigid or steamy, you are not going to be able to get as much done.
Unfortunately, the dangers of extreme temperatures go beyond matters of personal satisfaction and productivity. Exposure to extreme cold can result in hypothermia and frostbite, and thousands of workers get sick every year from heat exposure. Sadly the records of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) are full of tragic stories about heat-related deaths: a welder’s assistant, an asparagus farmer, a police cadet-in-training.
These cases often involve outdoor labor, directly under a blazing sun, but there are many indoor situations with extreme heat: Mines, smelting facilities, even warehouses. In all these cases, American workers are being put at risk.
What to do about unpleasant – or unsafe – temperatures.
For the office, or similar indoor facility:
If you find the temperature to be irritating (but not threatening to your health), the first thing to do is discover if your fellow employees agree with you. After all, one person’s sauna might be another person’s comfort zone.
If you are alone in your climate preferences, you might consider some personal adjustments: make sure you are dressing appropriately for your comfort, and have hot or cold beverages available, according to your needs.
But if your fellow workers agree with you, it’s time to go to whoever controls the thermostat in your workplace. That person might not realize they’ve been making folks uncomfortable. Whether you’re dealing with a company supervisor or a building engineer, a bunch of you working together will be difficult to ignore.
For outdoor jobs, or extreme indoor conditions:
If you work, or expect to work, in extreme temperature conditions, familiarize yourself with the symptoms of heat stress (hot, dry skin; sweating; hallucinations; high temperature; confusion; and dizziness) and cold stress (shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, blue skin, dilated pupils). If this is happening to you or a co-worker, don’t wait to see if it gets worse: alert your supervisor, begin first aid procedures for cold or heat, and, if indicated, call 911.
Your employer has a legal responsibility to maintain a safe workplace and should be making you aware of the risks, giving you proper training and responding quickly if anyone gets ill. If they are failing to do this, they – and you – have a problem.
Talk to your coworkers who are also at risk, and keep in mind that if you approach your employer together, you ordinarily have more legal protection than if you make a complaint alone. You can also protect yourself with cold hard facts:
- Let your boss know when, where and for how long employees are facing extreme temperatures.
- Describe the symptoms you and others have experienced in detail.
- These fact sheets (for cold and hot, respectively) detail employer responsibilities for a safe workplace.
If your boss responds by saying that tough working conditions are just “part of the price you pay” for having a job, you have the option of filing an OSHA complaint.(It’s ordinarily illegal for your boss to retaliate against you for doing this.) While there are no specific federal regulations about working in extreme cold or heat, you do have a right to a workplace “free from recognized hazards.” That includes exposure to extreme cold and heat. Some states do have more rigorous rules regarding heat, and you can find the state plans here.