Term Paper: Maintaining an Optimal Temperature in the Workplace

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Risk Management: Thermal Comfort

Because our homes and businesses exist in a continually temperature-controlled state, it is easy to forget the risks posed by improper temperature management. Risks may be posed to employees if internal heating and cooling systems break down, if there is a power outage or simply if on a consistent basis there are not adequate steps taken to control the temperature. Also, temperature risks may be posed due to the nature of the work, either indoors (such as a factory setting) or outdoors during extreme conditions. Hazards posed by improper thermal regulation thus may be consistent and an innate part of the work or they may be posed when temperature regulation systems break down.

According to Risk Management standards and guidelines as published by the Joint Australian/New Zealand Standard "risk is often expressed in terms of a combination of the consequences of an event (including changes in circumstances) and the associated likelihood (2.19) of occurrence" (1). Risk management will vary depending on the needs of various work environments and the likelihood that there will be interference with temperature regulation systems. For some workplaces, the risk may be discomfort: for others, the risk of poor thermal comfort control can be extremely hazardous, such as when individuals are in close, confined quarters or when exposed to the elements (such as laying roofing tile).

Assessment of risk

"To have thermal comfort means that a person wearing a normal amount of clothing feels neither too cold nor too warm. Thermal comfort is important both for one's well-being and for productivity. It can be achieved only when the air temperature, humidity and air movement are within the specified range often referred to as the comfort zone" (Thermal comfort for office work, 2014, CCOHS). Thermal comfort depends upon the nature of the work and the setting rather than arbitrary temperature settings for all environments. For example, an office heated to 55F for sedentary office work would be unacceptable yet this might be acceptable conditions to work outdoors for heavy labor.

The types of persons within the workforce will also determine the need for specific precautions. "Health surveillance or medical screening may be required for staff who have special requirements such as pregnancy, certain illnesses, disabilities and/or maybe taking medication or are working in known cold/heat stress environments" (Employers guide, 2014, HSE). A group of largely healthy construction workers accustomed to doing work on roofs in the summer will have a different tolerance level for heat from a 'mixed' workplace of sedentary office workers. The scope of comfort assessment will depend upon a variety of subjective and objective factors, some of which are physical and environmental, others of which are personal and psychological. "Age and risk groups (babies, elders, ill persons), previous accommodation (e.g. changing from indoors to outdoors), habits (e.g. clothing difference among seasons and sex), personal preferences (some people feel comfortable in cold or hot), and actual mood (the state of mind, feeling happy or nervous) may have an influence (comfort is not just a physiological problem but psychological too)" (Martinez 2014:1). Duration can also have an effect: for example, working in uncomfortable temperature conditions for brief periods during the day (such as a cold basement where copiers are located) might be deemed acceptable to a workforce, versus working in an unacceptably cold office environment for many sustained hours. In the event of a power outage, a workplace may be able to tolerate the inconvenience for a short period of time before the discomfort caused by the temperature becomes unsupportable.

Eliminating or managing adverse consequences

In general, thermal comfort is graded according to subjective sensations of workers vs. absolute temperatures. The thermal scale 'thermal feeling' rating system quantifies such subjective perceptions according to seven gradients, ranging from uncomfortably cold in which "95% of people in a significant group complain of being cold" to uncomfortably hot "when >95% of people in a significant group complain of being hot" (Martinez 2014:1-2). Once again the relative variation of this highlights the subjectivity of the perceptions of temperature given that between these two extremes there are many temperatures for which only 25% to 70% might feel circumstances are too hot or too cold and the employer may need to manage a delicate balance between the needs of these two factions. Particularly if the demands of workers are split demographically (for example, women who tend to wear less clothing when dressing professionally vs. men who wear suits and ties in the summer), this can be a challenge.

Environmental conditions also come into play when evaluating temperature and likely human responses. "Air temperature (or water temperature if diving), background radiant temperature (of walls, sky, and Sun, if any), air relative humidity, and wind speed. And not only average values matter, but their gradients and transients too. Non-thermal environmental variables like ambient light and noise may affect the thermal sensation too. The most difficult to measure of the parameters governing thermal comfort is the background radiant temperature, which depends on direct solar irradiance, wall solar reflectance (albedo), sky temperature, wall temperature, and all the geometric view factors involved" (Martinez 2014:1). In other words, a cool, damp basement office will feel subjectively more in need of heat vs. An office full of windows and bright sunlight.

The best way to engage in effective risk management regarding monitoring of temperature is to engage in constant dialogue with the affected participants. "Communication and consultation continual and iterative processes that an organization conducts to provide, share or obtain information and to engage in dialogue with stakeholders (2.13) regarding the management of risk (2.1)" (Risk management -- Principles and guidelines, 2009, Joint Australian/New Zealand Standard: 3). This means that it is never enough to merely set standards and hope that this takes care of things for all time; rather, dialogue is required with participants to create a truly effective response.

Some of the core principles of risk management, including risk management pertaining to temperature are that governance of risk creates value for the organization. "Risk management is dynamic, iterative and responsive to change" (Risk management -- Principles and guidelines, 2009, Joint Australian/New Zealand Standard: 3). Risk requires constant environmental scanning to ensure that it meets the needs of the environment. Just as the temperature itself is constantly changing, an organization which deploys effective risk management will strive to remain in a state of homeostasis. With this in mind, only general guidelines regarding specific temperature ranges can be offered. "A general recommendation is that the temperature be held constant in the range of 21-23°C (69-73°F). In summertime when outdoor temperatures are higher it is advisable to keep air-conditioned offices slightly warmer to minimize the temperature discrepancy between indoors and outdoors" (Thermal comfort for office work, 2014, CCOHS). In offices where heavy suits and ties are required, this may need to be modified, however.

Of course, energy demands may also be taken into consideration. During prolonged heat or cold waves, financial pressures or dictates regarding power conservation may force offices to modify existing safety requirements regarding thermal temperature. If it is necessary -- for example, if businesses are advised to raise their ambient temperature setting during a heat wave to preserve a power surge, modifying the dress code such as allowing employees to take off their jackets or to not wear hose and close-toed shoes may be suggested to preserve comfort. In some offices or exterior environments where temperature regulation is not possible, more extreme measures may be necessary. It may be needed to prohibit work entirely if the conditions under which employees are working are not deemed to be safe and to allow for telecommuting.

Protective clothing can provide some protection from adverse temperatures that cannot, for whatever reason, be managed effectively through mechanical monitoring and alteration of the environment. For example, "special thermal suits are used to protect people working on very hot (e.g. At a furnace), very cold (e.g. refrigerated stores, underwater), or very constrained environments (e.g. space suits)" (Martinez 2014:7). Wet suits can protect individuals against both temperature and moisture and "fire resistant and thermal protection suits (with helmet and gloves), made of metallized cloth, to allow working near fires or inside furnaces and boilers, may allow short operations up to 1200 K, and prolonged operation at 600 K. They usually incorporate self- contained breathing means" (Martinez 2014:7). However, these are extreme examples and ultimately environmental regulation is a more effective response to challenging environmental conditions.

Humidity can also affect temperature perception: "relative humidity levels below 20% can cause discomfort through drying of the mucous membranes and skin. Low relative humidity levels may also cause static electricity build-up and negatively affect the operations of some office equipment such as printers and computers. Relative humidity levels above 70% may lead to the development of condensation on surfaces and within the interior of equipment and building structures. Left alone, these areas may develop mould and fungi" (Thermal comfort for office work, 2014, CCOHS). If left untreated, improper temperature regulation can thus give rise to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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