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Thermal comfort

Thermal comfort in the workplace is dependent on the combination of environmental and personal factors.

Environmental factors include:

  • air temperature
  • humidity
  • radiant temperature
  • air movement
  • level of activity
  • clothing worn.

Individual responses also vary depending on:

  • perception
  • physical fitness
  • medications taken
  • the body's fluid and salt balance
  • acclimatisation.

To achieve an acceptable thermal environment, each of these factors must be considered.

At UWA, the most common concern of thermal comfort is related to heat. There is a significant difference between thermal discomfort and heat stress. Heat stress occurs when more heat is being absorbed into the body than can be dissipated and the body's core temperature increases above 38ºC.

The guidelines below should assist in reducing the risk of any heat-related illness such as heat stress.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996, employers are required to provide, where practicable, a working environment in which employees are not exposed to hazards (Section 19) and to maintain atmospheric quality (Regulation no.3.15). There is no legislation that specifies suitable working temperatures in the workplace.

Refer to the UWA air conditioning policy for further information.


  • Employer

    It is the responsibility of Schools to assess and take appropriate action when there is potential for thermal discomfort. Problems should be anticipated and appropriate action taken before injury or illness occurs. The following guidelines may assist in this process. The supervisor should investigate the situation considering:

    • staff perceptions of the situation
    • staff levels of acclimatisation, and the possible physical and psychological effects of continued exposure
    • staff adherence to accepted work practices
    • the requirement for work to continue at that particular time
    • the estimated duration of the thermal extreme.
  • Employees

    Staff are to be encouraged to inform their supervisor of any thermal comfort issues and to adhere to guidelines/instructions given on personal protection from thermal health risks.


  • Indoor work

    The most comfortable temperatures in offices and laboratories is generally within the range of 18ºC and 30ºC. This varies with the time of year and clothing worn.

    The following measures can be implemented to control indoor air temperature within comfortable levels:

    • provide fans or air coolers to increase air movement and evaporation.
    • provide window blinds/curtains or screens to reduce radiant heat.
    • insulate equipment giving off radiant heat.
    • re-organise duties or perform duties in a different environment, (such as tasks that require more physical effort should be done in the cooler part of the day or in cooler areas).
    • vary hours worked (such as arrive early/leave early).
    • job rotate or take frequent rest breaks.
    • encourage employees to wear appropriate clothes (such as loose, light clothing).
    • encourage employees to drink cool water frequently even if the employee is not thirsty.

    If conditions are considered extreme so that productivity levels are low and distress is high due to thermal discomfort, paid rest breaks or cessation of duties may be considered by the Head of School. Staff must be informed of the exact duration of any paid breaks/leave and the provision under which it is to be granted (for example, staff may be placed on standby or given alternate duties in a cooler place).

  • Outdoor work

    Outdoor workers are not only exposed to potential heat stress and thermal discomfort, but there is the additional risk associated with long term exposure to solar radiation. There is a strong correlation between exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and a variety of skin disorders, including skin cancer and photokeratitis/cataracts of the eyes.

    The following measures should be implemented to protect outdoor workers:

    • schedule heavy work or work in direct sunlight to cooler periods of the day or other days.
    • introduce rest breaks or give alternate duties in a cooler place.
    • provide a cooler area for workers to retire to for rest breaks.
    • provide cooled water and encourage people to drink small amounts often
    • provide a canopy over work areas where possible.
    • wear protective clothing, such as broad-brimmed hat, lightweight opaque clothing (trousers and long sleeves, preferably natural fibres).
    • provide and encourage the regular application of sunscreens with maximum SPF protection.
    • encourage the wearing of sunglasses that comply with the Australian Standard, preferably with side shields.
  • Treatment for thermal illness

    Heat stress can be indicated by increased sweating, tiredness, inattention and muscle cramps. If heat stress or frost bite occurs, seek first aid or medical advice immediately. In the case of heat stress have the person rest in the coolest place available and drink cool but not cold water. Contact the School First Aid Officer or if on campus, the Medical Centre on 6488 2118.

    An incident or hazard report form should be submitted to the Safety and health office as soon as possible.


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