Thanks, air conditioning. It's blistering hot outside, but at work, women are freezing
As the Southwestern U.S. is about to feel the wrath of a punishing heat wave that includes a forecast of 120 degrees in Phoenix, bringing tough days ahead of many residents, air conditioner repairmen see big business on the horizon. (June 19)
It's so sweltering in the Southwest that planes can't fly, stores are wrapping door handles so shoppers don't get burned, pavement is torture for tender paws of pets, and air-conditioning repairmen are snowed under.
It may be a searing 118 degrees outside — but in your cubicle it's ice, ice baby.
Yes, drape that pashmina and raise your frozen hands if you are snuggled up to that space heater under your desk, ruing that seemingly innocent a.m. decision to wear sandals.
The working women of America are cold. In this workplace, we couldn't help but mark the irony of talking about the serious, dangerous heat plaguing parts of the U.S. while complaining about the arctic blast coming from the a/c vents above our desks.
And it's not just us, in suburban Washington, D.C.
If you spend the day finding excuses to take a break to go outside for a quick hit of heat, you're not alone. If you keep an old, gray, oversized cardigan draped over your chair for those emergency moments when you forget that extra jean jacket, we're with you. Got a secret space heater? We won't tell.
As a woman in the working world, no matter how high-powered and hectic your day is, do you sometimes feel (particularly in the summer) left out in the cold?
The draining battle over the office thermostat feels like it's been around since, well, the Ice Age. So what are the rules?
There is no requirement for employers to maintain a certain workplace temperature under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines. However, OSHA does recommend workplace temperatures in the range of 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity control in the range of 20% to 60%.
OSHA offers this caveat: "As a general rule, office temperature and humidity are matters of human comfort. OSHA has no regulations specifically addressing temperature and humidity in an office setting."
The Environmental Protection Agency has lengthy guidelines for indoor air quality for office buildings, including one section entitled "Factors that Affect Occupant Comfort and Productivity." And there, amid odors, furniture crowding, work space ergonomics and noise and vibration levels, there's this factor affecting comfort and productivity: "temperature — too hot or cold."
Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, an Australian science commentator, speaks a little more plainly in a February column for Great Moments in Science:
"Modern air conditioning set-ups all have a fundamental flaw — they are sexist," Kruszelnicki writes. "You see, men love aircon, but women often shiver."
Kruszelnicki notes how a "standard 55" was the temperature guideline introduced in 1966 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, based on environmental factors (temperature and humidity) and human factors (the metabolic rate and the clothing worn by office workers.)
Kruszelnicki argues that the 1966 reasoning may be a little well-worn on many levels, not to mention the pesky issues of energy efficiency and cost: "If we just set the thermostat to a slightly higher temperature, we can save energy and money," he writes.
Sadly, many office cooling systems are centrally controlled, and even if your podmates warm to your temperature troubles, you may be out of luck. So tear out that duct tape to block up the vents, sip on hot cocoa and count the hours until you, too, are outside and acting appalled that it's closing in on 120.
Brave office women of the world: Just show them you are chill.
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