Extremely cold workplace...what should I do?

Hi!

I have both raynauds and scleroderma and have found myself in quite a difficult situation at my new job. Basically the air conditioning is faulty with no one there knowing how or when it will be fixed. It is set at such a low temperature and on continually, I might as well be working in a fridge! My body just cannot tolerate the temperature and I'm not sure what to do, my hands are unbearbly painful and blue all day long and obviously that is beginning to have a detremental effect on my general health and well being. Theres also the problem that everytime a member of management see's my hands they instantly send me to the staff room to 'warm up'. I was sent off the floor three times today, it's making me feel ridiculous.

It has got to the stage where I can't face working in it anymore, but I do not want to lose the job. It seems highly unpractical to tell my employer I cannot return to work until the Air conditioning is funtioning at a normal, tolerable level.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? What action did you/ your employer take? I'm not sure where I stand on this as an employee.

Thanks in advance for any help :)

19 Replies

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  • There are advised limits on minimum temperature, but not laws it seems : hse.gov.uk/temperature/ther... and gov.uk/workplace-temperatures

    If, as a Raynauds sufferer, you are uncomfortable in your place of work, due to the faulty equipment, then you should speak to your employer about finding you somewhere else to do your job until they get it sorted. It is not good for your to remain in that environment and you need to explain your medical condition to them before it develops into more persistent finger ulcers and possible infection.

  • I truly empathize with your situation Aimee. Being a new employee and the attention that you are receiving due to their poor work environment coupled with the health conditions that you don't have control over. Which I too have both Scleroderma and Raynauds. What type of vicinity is it; could it be a work area that really requires cooler temps because of a lot of equipment that requires a cold type of environment? It's essential to really take a good look at whether it's healthy enough for you to work there. If you believe you can manage, it will take a lot of pampering - like wearing gloves, warmer clothing, having a space heater (if allowed). Will this impact your performance? If this experience has taken you through several weeks, it sounds like that is too long and you are overdue for a healthier change. Wow, this is truly sensitive. The excitement of gaining employment and now this. But it may not be the right fit. These are some serious questions to observe, be honest and gain perspectives on other possibilities/potentials. I would imagine that if you believe that you can manage for a few months longer and a reasonable turn-around time to the A/C fixture isn't in the very near future - like at least w/n 10 days; the observations to your discomfort and sending you to the Staff Room to warm up will increase, and then comes more scrutiny and questions. And as Gordon57 mentioned, it will be necessary to speak up and ask to transition to a better area for your condition will more than likely become even more uncomfortable causing greater problems. - You may wish to get advice from another HR Department outside of your current Employer on how to best handle this situation. Perhaps you have a Family member or Friend who is associated with an HR Dept.. Being a new employee, this is so sensitive and you do need some professional guidance, for I realize that you may wish to retain your privacy as best as possible. In the long run, the question is 'what is the most healthy approach for me'? Do I leave, do I stay, do I start wearing all the clothing gear that this current situation requires to be more comfortable and healthier, to be able to endure better throughout an 8-hr. day??????? It is essential to avoid allowing your medical conditions to rapidly decline for lack of the other side not being considerate enough to the employees' work environment to be more safe, comfortable and pleasant. One is not as productive and is more inhibited to producing quality performance when they are at disadvantages in their work environment. I will certainly keep your decision-making and this entire situation in my prayers, Aimee.

  • Thank you Thelma

  • If your employer has recognised that you need warmer temperatures to work in, which it would seem they have ,if they move you off to warm up when your hands are blue, I would think they are approachable enough to talk to. Explain that it's a medical condition and ask if you may wear gloves (even fingerless ones help, as keeping the wrists warm keeps the circulation moving through to the rest of the hand). Be thankful you have an employer who is understanding, it's in their interest too, to ensure their staff are comfortable, in order to operate efficiently. :)

  • The Raynaud's & Scleroderma Association have helped many members in this situation by providing a letter for the employer. If you are a member you could request a support letter.

    They have also been successful in helping members who have had to appeal when their Blue Badge has been withdrawn.

  • Depending on the severity of your condition, Aimee-Marie, you may have the benefit of Disability Discrimination legislation. If you haven't told your employer that you have a disabilty, and your condition does interfere with your ability to carry out day to day activities, then you should do so, as employers are not expected to know if you don't tell them. They then have a duty to make "reasonable adjustments" for your condition. In your case that means providing a working environment that is sufficiently warm as not to trigger your condition. It may be that the your employer is doing everything they can to do a repair but are e.g. awaiting spare parts for the system to be repaired. In this case, by putting you into a warmer room, or sending you to the staff room to warm up, they are doing what they can. I think you need to ask some questions about why the repair is taking so long.

  • Hi Aimee-Marie, I am in the same situation and I have a heater that stands on my desk, tried it under my desk but didn't get enough heat to my hands, my employers got it from Argos and it works both as a fan and a heater, so when my hands get stiff when the air con is on at full belt, I just switch my little heater on. I had already been through Occupational Health etc for my other conditions, so I didn't have to go back to them to get the heater, it was just accepted. I printed off the internet the details of my condition, (as I also have cryofibrinogenaemia) and popped a quick note to it to state what effect getting cold had on my health and if it was possible to get a heater, and my manager took it from there. It may be that your employer wants you to go to Occ Health or they may be happy with a letter from your GP or to take your word for it, all depends on the employer. Hope this helps.

  • Hi everyone, Thanks so much for your answers so far.

    The job itself does not require the cool temperatures, it is a genuine problem within the building and I am aware several other members of staff who are perfectly healthy have been complaining too. Unfortunately the job is not a static one and it is spread over four floors of a very large building.

    I have had meetings with the staffing manager who was very understanding and has moved me to other departments with the hope that it will be warmer, though it is not. So you can say they are trying to help, but they have no answers as to when it will be sorted, It has been like this for 6 weeks and my hands are getting worse, even if I have my jumper and jacket on. I spoke with the staffing manager yesterday and all they have to say is that it is an ongoing problem they are trying to fix and no one in the building has control over it as it is a computerised system.

    They are aware of my condition and have been from the start, although I have never declared it a disability that impacts on day to day activities as it never really has, always just a managable inconvenience, until now. I am due for iloprost next month so that will help me manage this a bit but I am beginning to feel that I need to leave as I just cannot tolerate the temperature there. It is upsetting as I have had severe raynauds since the very young age of 3 and was diagnosed with scleroderma at 14, I am now 23 and have never felt that these conditions made much of an impact on my ability to do things, until now.

    Thanks again for everyones kind words and help so far.

  • I too have a problem with the heating in my office. It is usually quite cold where I sit therefore I wear fingerless gloves and layers of clothes. I also have a small heater under my desk which I put on when I need it. My manager is aware that I feel the cold and does not have a problem with me putting the heater on. They have been unable to sort out the heating as it seems to be a cold spot. If things got too bad I would certainly ask if I could change desks. Unfortunately most people do not understand how Raynauds affects you; a letter from the Raynauds and Scleroderma Association would certainly help. I see you are in a bit of a predicament as you have only just started the job but it is certainly better to clear this up right from the start.

  • I did a search for 'minimum temperature in the workplace'. I would think that unless your employer can provide a 'safe' temperature for you, typically a minimum of 13 degrees, then you may be entitled to sick leave on pay until the minimum temperature you have to work in is fixed. Of course you do not want to antagonise your employer by taking this action, but I think you would be entitled. What I do not understand is how you are able to stay there in such pain, I would have thought you would have been compulsed to go home? I say this because I myself would have to leave the environment. Nobody wxcept suffers knows not only how painful our Raynauds is, but also how horribly unpleasant the sensations of numbness are.

  • I have considered the idea of sick leave on pay until it is sorted, but as I am so new I would be very uncomfortable with asking for this. After a lot of thinking I feel the best option is to leave as the whole situation is making me feel quite stressed and upset, I'm not keen on being centre of attention. Tezza1007z, I have had Raynauds my whole life and have built a very high tolerance to it's pain levels. Of course I still feel the pain, I have the same problems as other raynauds sufferers such as not being able to get money from my purse in the winter, and triggering the blueness and numb feelings when ever I open the fridge or freezer, but it is something I have learnt to put up with.

    There have been a couple of days where I have left work early because I just could not handle it any longer. The coldness there is extremely unpleasant, but in sympathy to the employer I know my situation is an exceptional one.

  • I'm a health and safety lead (and a Raynaud's patient) and had exactly the same problem where I work. I am the manager for the area but I was frustrated in trying to get my A/C fixed. The approach I took was as follows:

    1. Referred myself to Occupational Health and any others who were experiencing problems with the working conditions. It ended up being my entire department as nearly everyone working near the AC unit had neck or shoulder pain.

    2. Monitored temperatures in the area we were working so that we had evidence - the job is not one that requires physical exertion so 16.0 degrees measured one hour after starting work is the accepted minimum. 13.0 is the accepted minimum in work areas where significant strenuous activities are required. In our case it was the airflow and not the temperature that was the problem.

    3. You should have a Representative of Employee Safety (ROES) in your area. Ensure that they are aware and that they are pursuing this through the Health and Safety Group/Committee meetings. I made sure it was mentioned at every monthly meeting and chased for an update and a timescale for next actions.

    4. Be aware that A/C problems can take ages to fix and be taken seriously. Our problems started when a new unit was put in at a cost of £3500 to fix another problem with A/C. This week we've been told that it is too powerful a unit and it will cost another £2750 to get the right one installed. I had an idea of cost so I needed to make it worth their while to shut me up! (This is just to sort my department out though with a stand alone unit. To get the whole AC system sorted will be £££££!)

    5. The HSE has a thermal comfort checklist at hse.gov.uk/temperature/ther... - everywhere we've had problems I've asked the workers in the area to fill in the thermal comfort checklist and give it to either their line manager or their ROES. This is supposed to prompt a risk assessment. If your manager decides that the control measure is to increase the frequency of breaks rather than fix the air con then that is fine! Ensure that you sign the risk assessment to confirm that you have seen it and are working wihin it. You should not then face any consequences from management if you are working in accordance with their risk assessment. This is what tipped the cost/benefit balance for us in my department. I've also used the same tactics successfully in two other departments - one which was too hot and another which was cold.

    6. Dress for comfort. If you have to wear uniform then you are looking to your employer to meet the reasonable costs of anything you require to keep you warm and within the uniform policy. My team were wearing fleeces in the department during the recent hot spell - that concentrated the management's mind on sorting it out as it was a bit embarrassing for them! These were purchased by the company and I made it clear that they were going to be replaced on the same basis as other uniform (in our case it is every two years).

    At the end of the day you are not being a pain. You've flagged up a legitimate concern that the company are already aware of and you've tried to work with them to get a workable solution that is sustainable. It has taken me 14 months (and I've had a lot of fobbing off from contractors) so it can be exhausting. Sometimes seeing the HSE paperwork helps with improving understanding.

    Best of luck!

  • Gosh, this is all far too common. I have Raynauds and have suffered since being a child. I am always chilled, even in summer. I have a cardi on my chair at work and a heater on my desk, which is often on during the summer! I have had issues with other staff members commenting on the heater which has caused me to move desks (and I am one deemed 'Disabled'). Very frustrating - if my disability was visible ie: I walked with sticks, comments would not be passed. I also suffer with joint problems and have been fighting for a new chair and ergonomic keyboards etc for almost a year......and I work for the government!!!.....the times I have wanted to go off sick and have battled with aches and pains to do a full days work.

    Regular treatments from Osteopath, acupuncture and herbal treatments are helping. I was taking prescribed Nifedipine for over ten years, not realising it can cause lack of blood flow to muscles. GPs are not specialised enough to understand each drug. I decided to come off Nifedipine and now take a good/high dose of herbal tabs Ginkgo Biloba, I have never looked back. Alternative and herbal remedies/treatments are the best. We all rely on NHS far too much in this country and they do not have the skills or expertise to deal with individual cases and I was sick of getting fobbed off - oooooh, just like I do in work!

    Back to the work issue - I sometimes feel like walking around with a post it note stuck to my forehead so people don't ask why my heater is on!!!

    rrrrrr

    Good Luck Aimee

  • I can truly empathise with you. I was diagnosed late 80's early 90's with Raynauds. I moved to an Exec job in a different bldg and my desk was right under a vent for the air-conditioning. I told two colleagues and they we're quick to decide wihere the warmest spot was for me. We switched the desks round to suit and I no longer had the problem. As everyone else has said I would speak to your supervisor and your colleagues. Maybe someone could switch places with you. Hope you can get it resolved. All the best, Mags x

  • Seems to me you need to find out who the owner of the building is esp as you say the AC is bust over 4 floors of the building and also other people are complaining as well and is not always that easy to transfer esp if your company covers all 4 floors of said building.

    My advice is to seek out who the owner of the building is and write to them to get it fixed... set up some sort of petition as well and also speak to the Enviromental Health Agency.. as they also have grounds to get it sorted due to low working temperatures. Speak to your manager and see if you can wear warmer clothes and just go from there

    Good luck and let us know how you get on

  • ask for a warm corner or leave

  • years ago and schools work places had to be over 60f to work in .There may be a law that states

  • In such circumstances I would wear thermal under-clothing and pure wool mittens with long cuffs to keep the vital wrists warm. It sounds as though you are living at my house! That's how I cope with temperatures under 15 deg. c.

    Meanwhile I would follow KarenLH's advice re. Environmental Health. Maybe laws are being broken!

  • First of all ask to speak to the HR department and explain your situation and secondly ask your GP for a letter to explain your problem. If the air conditioning is faulty it isn't your fault and they should make sure that it is not causing your condition to get worse.

    There is probably a solution but you may have to fight for it!

    Good luck

    AM

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