Workplace loos, noise, heat, light: what you need to know

A plumber holding a bucket below a broken sink in a workplace

Are you sitting comfortably? What about your staff? As a business-owner there are some key regulations governing work environments you need to know about - whether you run an office-based business, shop or factory. They apply to everything from space, lighting and noise to toilets and temperature. Here are some key rules and recommendations you should be aware of

1. Minimum and maximum workplace temperature

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the law does not specify a minimum temperature, but the HSE says the temperature in workrooms should be at least 16°C or 13°C if much of the work is physical. Under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, the Approved Code of Practice states: "The temperature in workrooms should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. Where such a temperature is impractical because of hot or cold processes, all reasonable steps should be taken to achieve a temperature which is as close as possible to comfortable." Go to the HSE website for useful guidance on temperature in the workplace.

2. Space

Workspaces that feel cramped can affect the well-being and efficiency of your employees. The HSE says workspaces should have enough room to allow people to move about with ease and in safety. They also need sufficient space to store work equipment and documents.

The Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 says: "The volume of the room when empty, divided by the number of people normally working in it, should be at least 11 cubic metres. All or part of a room over 3m high should be counted at 3m high. 11 cubic metres per person is a minimum and may be insufficient depending on the layout, contents and the nature of the work."

3. Workplace lighting

The lighting you provide will be dictated by the type of work that your business does. However, every employer must make sure lighting is adequate for the task in hand. For instance, while an office could be lit to 300 lux, employees may need a desk lamp to study things more closely. A corridor, though, may only need to be lit to 50 lux.

You must also consider aspects of lighting such as colour, contrast and glare, especially from screens. Giving staff control over their own lighting can reduce stress. Sudden changes in light levels can be a problem because it takes the eye several seconds to adapt to new conditions so contrasts should be gradual. Here is more information on lighting legislation.

4. Workplace noise and vibration

Exposure to high levels of noise can increase stress and even fairly low noise levels can be a problem if experienced over long periods. Employers must ensure that noise levels do not interfere with safety-related communication. The HSE has a guide to noise at work and what employers must do under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.

HSE Noise exposure calculators


The Health and Safety Executive has created these exposure calculators and ready-reckoners to help you to work out your daily or weekly noise exposure, and estimate the performance of any hearing protection you and your employees are wearing.

Use the HSE Exposure calculators and ready-reckoners.

Whole body vibration (which might be experienced in vehicles) can cause lower back pain and fatigue and some frequencies of vibration affect visual performance. The HSE has a useful guide to the regulations that cover vibration.

5. Toilets and rest facilities at work

The law states that toilets should be readily accessible, adequately ventilated and lit; be kept clean and securable from the inside. But how many loos do you need for your business?

In most workplaces, the guidelines state that there should be one toilet for up to five staff; two toilets for 6-25 staff; three for 26-50 staff; and four for up to 75 staff. For businesses with male employees only, there must be one toilet for the first 15 staff, two toilets for 6-25 staff, three for 26-50 staff and four for up to 75 staff.

There should be as many washbasins as there are toilets.

In addition, the law states that an adequate supply of "wholesome" drinking water should be provided.

Facilities for storing a change of clothing and a place to change should be provided for any employees that need to wear special clothes for work. Employers should also provide suitable places for people to eat and rest, including areas for expectant or nursing mothers.

6. Workplace health and safety

First aid: The Health and Safety (First-Aid) Regulations 1981 require you to provide adequate and appropriate first-aid equipment, facilities and appointed first aid people so your employees can be given immediate help if they are injured or taken ill at work. FAQs on first aid at work can be found on the HSE website.

Smoking: Public spaces and workplaces must be smoke-free. Even with smoke-free legislation, HSE advises that employers have a policy on smoking in the workplace in order to reduce the risk to the health and safety of their employees from second-hand smoke.

Insurance: Employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees while they are at work and most are required by law to insure against liability for injury or disease to their employees arising out of their employment. More information about the legal requirements under the Employers' Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 can be found on the HSE website.

Risk assessment: You must carry out a suitable health and safety risk assessment. You can find out about assessing health and safety risks in your workplace on the HSE website.

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