independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

What are my right? Workplace regulations

Q I Have a question about my health and my working conditions.

Is it legal for an employer to expect employees to work in a shop – a normal city centre retailer – with the door open when it’s below freezing outside?

On these days it's really cold in the shop as the heating system doesn’t work properly and I've lost count of the amount of colds I’ve had this winter.

A THIS year saw the coldest start to winter on record and employers have an obligation to provide employees with a safe and comfortable workplace at all times.

Under Irish health and safety legislation the range of temperature that is considered acceptable for indoor workers goes from 16°C to 17.5°C.

The differences in temperatures are down to the different classifications of indoor work.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 covers the issue of minimum temperatures in the workplace.

There are pretty severe sanctions if employers breach the welfare at work regulations. If there's a breach of these it means your boss is committing an offence under the 2005 Act, and could be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000 and/or up to six months’ imprisonment.

Alternatively, if convicted on indictment, an employer could be liable to a fine of up to €3m and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

You write about unacceptably cold conditions in your workplace. The relevant section that will help you is Regulation 7 of the 2007 Regulations.

Regulation 7 imposes a duty on employers to ensure that during working hours the room temperature in areas containing workstations is appropriate for people, having regard to the working methods being used and the physical demands on the employees.

If the office work is stationary, employers must ensure that a minimum temperature of 17.5°C is achieved and maintained at every workstation after the first hour's work.

For other sedentary work, an employer must ensure that at every work station where a substantial proportion of the work does not involve serious physical effort, a minimum temperature of 16°C is, so far as is reasonably practicable,maintained after the first hour’s work.

Under the law your employer even has to provide a thermometer to measure the work place temperature! Workers are entitled to have some means available to measure the temperature in any workplace inside a building.

The Health and Safety Authority Guide to the 2007 Regulations (the HSA Guide) states that in cases where it is difficult to maintain an adequate overall temperature, it may be necessary to provide extra heating or protective clothing at workstations.

Health and Safety Authority inspectors carry out around 16,000 inspections a year and have the power to enter any premises that is being used as a workplace and ensure employers are compliant with health, safety and welfare legislation.

Mary Kirwan is a barrister. Email her your queries at mkirwan@independent.ie

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