In my workplace, loads of us get colds. could it be caused by our ultra-chilly air conditioning?

It's unlikely to be the cold air but more likely the air-conditioning that is the problem. In our hermetically sealed working environments the chances of airborne diseases such as colds and flu spreading are greatly increased.

Air-conditioning systems vary considerably, but the common element is that they must be regularly cleaned and maintained. Ask about your employer's air-conditioning cleaning procedures and when the system was last maintained. It should be a minimum of once a year, but the more often the better. And is the system appropriate for the environment? You may have more people now, or the nature of the work may have changed (more PCs, etc.) but it's still the same air-conditioning as 20 years ago.

Poor ventilation and air quality are thought to be contributing factors to 'sick building syndrome', which produces many cold-like symptoms in workers. The main feature is that symptoms worsen with time spent in the building.

There are also minimum standards in place for workplace temperature. Employers must ensure that the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings is 'reasonable' during working hours. This means providing reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing. The Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) on temperature produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says workrooms should normally be at least 16°C for most types of work (although we would recommend 20°C for office work) and at least 13°C for work involving considerable physical effort.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.