How Cold is Too Cold to Work?


Cold storage workers and outdoor workers often have to deal with temperatures that would force most people inside, grasping for the firelighters and coco. If you’re getting paid, there’s an obvious incentive to tough it out and carry on, but how cold is too cold?

Depending on where you are in the world, there are safe working temperature regulations. Standard indoor ones tend to be more stringent, like in the UK the minimum is 13ºC, but that’s more of a way to make sure that all office buildings and retail outlets keep paying the heating bill. For everyone else, it’s less that there’s a temperature limit and more that the working schedule changes depending on how cold it is.

In cold storage, the temperature is (or should be) consistent, so each one will have their own working structure depending on the environment the staff are working in. Staff will be entitled to frequent ‘warm up breaks’ throughout the day, and will have been assessed for any health risks. Any signs of ‘cold stress’ should be recognised and addressed immediately.

With outdoor work, the cardinal rule is wind-chill. In Canada, the shift/breaks structure is heavily based on wind chill factor. Depending on the cold and the speed of the wind, workers either get very long, infrequent, or short frequent breaks, until it reaches a temperature or wind speed where work has to be halted unless it’s emergency work.

In most places, any workplace where the temperate can fall below 16ºC is required to have a thermometer which should be checked at regular intervals. Medically trained individuals are often required to be on hand at all times and extensive training courses are mandatory.

The key thing is PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Many companies either supply it, or have a list of what’s required and reimburse staff for their gear.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. 

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Last modified: 16th April 2018