The average person in the UK spends 43.6 hours a week at work but do we know how the workplace health and safety legislation affects us? Our Frequently Asked Questions blog series looks at the most frequently asked questions we received about working conditions:
Does the smoke-free legislation include e-cigarettes?E-cigarettes are not regulated like tobacco products and there is currently no bespoke regulatory system for e-cigarettes in the UK, but they are captured by general product safety regulatory requirements. If an employer decides to 'prohibit' the use of e-cigarettes in the workplace but allow for ‘vaping’ breaks or provide areas where employees can use e-cigarettes, the employer needs to ensure that those who use e-cigarettes are not put at risk of harm from second-hand tobacco smoke.
How much space should I have at work?Regulation 10 of the Workplace, (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 says: Every room where persons work shall have sufficient floor area, height and unoccupied space for purposes of health, safety and welfare. The associated Approved Code of Practice and Guidance is more specific and states that: The total volume of the room, when empty, divided by the number of people normally working in it should be at least 11 cubic metres. In making this calculation a room or part of a room which is more than 3.0m high should be counted as 3.0m high. The figure of 11 cubic metres per person is a minimum and may be insufficient if, for example, much of the room is taken up by furniture etc.
How hot/cold does it have to be before I can complain?
The law does not state a minimum or maximum temperature, but the temperature in workrooms should normally be at least: 16°C or 13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort. A meaningful maximum figure cannot be given due to the high temperatures found in, for example, glass works or foundries. In such environments it is still possible to work safely provided appropriate controls are present. These regulations only apply to employees – they do not apply to members of the public, for example, with regards to temperature complaints from customers in a shopping centre or cinema.
What breaks am I entitled to at work?The Working Time Regulations 1998 state the following provision for rest breaks at work and time off:
A worker is entitled to an uninterrupted break of 20 minutes when daily working time is more than six hours. It should be a break in working time and should not be taken either at the start, or at the end, of a working day.
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998, regulation 10, a worker is entitled to a rest period of 11 consecutive hours rest in each 24 hour period during which he works for his employer.
However, there are a number of special circumstances in which the entitlement to rest periods does not apply, for example, where the activities involve a need for continuity of service or production or where there is a foreseeable surge of activity. Also, if a shift worker changes shift, it may not be possible for them to take their full rest entitlement before starting the new pattern of work. In such a case the entitlement to daily and weekly rest does not apply. An adult worker is also entitled to one day off a week; this can be averaged over 2 weeks.
Can I complain about my working conditions?
There are legal minimum standard for working conditions, so yes, you can complain, for example if:
- The indoor temperature drops below 16 Celsius (sedentary work) or 13 Celsius (vigorous work); in addition there should be adequate ventilation.
- The washing and toilet facilities are not clean, in good working order with hot/cold water, soap and drying facilities.
- You do not have 11 cubic metres or enough space to move with ease.
- There is no/limited access to water, somewhere to eat or rest.
- Noise exposure exceeds 87 decibels
Your complaint should be taken seriously by your employer and all reasonable steps should be taken to resolve the issue. However, some complaints may not be able to be resolved, such as complaints about heat as there is currently no legal maximum workplace temperature.
For more information see our Health and Safety Training - Basics & Essentials course. It looks at responsibilities and legal requirements, hazards and risk, safety signs at work, personal protective equipment and workplace emergency procedures such as fire evacuation and calling the emergency services.