Thursday, April 24, 2008

Workers Battle Over The Office Thermostat

Yes, they are still arguing about office temperatures ...

Forget international summits on environmental policy. An ugly war against climate change is probably being waged in your workplace.

The scene is the same in many an office: Sally in Accounting shivers at her desk bundled in a wool sweater, while Tim in Human Resources sweats through the 10 a.m. meeting. The thermostat is set at 70 degrees, but both workers are getting hot under their white collars.

Extreme office temperature consistently ranks as a pet peeve among office workers in informal surveys. Finding a climate that makes everyone happy is next to impossible, because individuals can experience the same temperature differently. Factor in old buildings with outdated heating and cooling systems, and you've got a widespread workplace woe.

"My fingers get so cold when I'm working, I can barely type on my keyboard," said Robin Clay, a project manager at a bank in Belfast, Maine. She sometimes wears her coat in the office, which is chilly year-round, she said. "I don't know which makes me crankier, freezing in the winter or freezing in the summer," she said.

But more than just workers' moods are affected by uncomfortable temperatures, according to recent research. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, is completing his third study into the effects of climate on worker productivity. Using software that records the keystrokes of about 30 workers in a New Jersey office, Hedge found that performance dropped and errors rose when conditions were perceived as too cold.

"If you are thermally comfortable, then you actually do better than if you are freezing to death in the building," Hedge said.

Women tend to run cooler than men, thanks to lighter clothing, less body hair and a tendency to move around less, he said.

A temperature range of 72 to 76 degrees is ideal, Hedge said. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, 68 to 74 degrees in the winter and 73 to 79 degrees in the summer should suit 80 percent or more of a building's occupants. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends a range of 68 to 76 degrees.

Building designs and occupancy estimates often inaccurately account for the heat generated by personal computers, one of which can produce the warmth of a human body, Hedge said.

Doug Melton, a communications and control technician at Spectra Energy in Knoxville, Tenn., deals with that reality every day. A thermostat in his company's 1960s-era building controls both a conference room and an adjoining room housing networking equipment that must be kept cool to function properly. When employees crank up the heat and forget to turn it back down, the risk of equipment shutdowns and damage rises right along with the mercury."    (Continued via    [Ergonomics Resources]

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