Temperature in the workplace

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This week there has been a great deal of coverage of a study that has suggested that women feel temperature differently in workplaces from men.

The study has offered an answer to the longstanding question – why when some men in the office are reaching for the air conditioning, are some women slipping on cardigans?

According to the research, women feel the cold more readily – one small sample test the researchers carried out suggests that women were found to prefer rooms at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, while men prefer 72. It says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. The study concludes that buildings should ?reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort? because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.

Just sitting at a desk, the human body is working to keep everything running smoothly ? the brain, blood and vital organs at a cozy 98.6. “Basically if you are sitting in an office and the temperature is neutral, then your body is able to completely control or maintain core temperature only by changing skin blood flow,” says Boris Kingma, a biophysicist at and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To determine a female metabolic equivalent, Kingma had 16 women in T-shirts and sweatpants in a temperature-controlled room, and calculated the rate at which they were consuming oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide in order to measure of how much energy they were generating. He found that their metabolic rates were significantly lower than the standard resting metabolic rate. So their bodies actually needed higher room temperatures to be comfortable.

Energy consumption of residential buildings and offices adds up to about 30% of total carbon dioxide emissions; and occupant behaviour contributes to 80% of the variation in energy consumption.

“A great determinant of resting metabolic rates is the fat free body mass in people?s bodies,” says Professor Paul Thornalley, of Warwick Medical School. This accounts for nearly 60% of the individual difference in men and women?s resting metabolic rates. The higher proportion of body mass which is able to produce heat involuntarily means that on average men don?t feel the cold as easily as women – and, in summer months, means they have a lower tolerance for hot weather because their bodies produce more heat at a resting metabolic rate, getting warmer quicker.

Dress codes are a main reason to blame for discomfort more so than temperature. “Women adapt much more their clothing in the summertime to the outside temperature than men do,” says Oleson. But air conditioning is “operated so men in the business suit feel comfortable.”

Seeing as 72 degrees Fahrenheit is written in black and white to be the best temperature for productivity, ladies ? it looks like you?ll need to take a cardie into the office tomorrow? 

 

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    Amelia Walker

    Editor – PA Life

    All stories by: Amelia Walker