Winter Weather – Ensuring Staff Safety In The Workplace

General Safety By Matthew Coombes

It’s crucial to take extra steps to keep staff safe during winter, and with the presence of COVID-19 still looming above us like a dark cloud, it’s even more important than ever to effectively manage safety this winter.

According to the UK Met Office, our winter spans from the 21st of December 2021 all the way through until the 20th of March 2022.

During this time, we can expect the usual unpredictable UK weather, with the ever-present threat of snow, minus temperatures, and torrential rain.

So, what can we do to ensure staff safety in the workplace this winter?

Be prepared for cold weather

Driving

Driving for work purposes (whether in a company, hired, or personal vehicle) needs to be managed by the employer under the general duties of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

If temperatures go below freezing, the driving environment can easily become more perilous and extra care will need to be taken both by the driver and by the employer in terms of ensuring that the driver will be safe.

This means ensuring that maintenance on vehicles has taken place, and that icy or cold weather is not going to cause an increased risk of something going wrong with the vehicle.

In the case of workers using their own vehicle for work:

Provide key information

Don’t just assume that your worker will know what to do if they break down on the motorway, if they get stuck in snow, or have any mechanical problems with their car. Tell them what you either expect them to do, or best practice, whichever will keep them safest.

Provide equipment

It doesn’t matter if you’re in Inverness or Bath, minus temperatures can cause hypothermia.

It can be advisable to provide staff with (or cover the costs of) snow equipment such as rock salt, snow shovels, and emergency blankets to keep in their vehicles if they’re required to travel during a cold snap.

Commuting to the workplace:
Commuting to the usual workplace is not always covered under health and safety legislation, as it is not seen as the employer’s responsibility until the travel is for the purpose of completing work.

However, modern technology means that now more than ever, a lot of jobs can be completed partially or completely remotely. Remote working should always be considered as an important alternative during cold weather.

If your employees can effectively work from home, or even a closer location, why risk them crashing, become injured, stressed or worse as a result of commuting to a workplace.

Manual Handling

Colder temperatures make manual handling much harder, not only is it often uncomfortable to work in colder temperatures, people often find that it becomes harder to move your hands and grip. In the case of manual handling, workers may be tempted to wear gloves to keep the cold away. However, this may reduce grip further and make manual handling harder.

If you are expecting workers to complete manual handling tasks in a cold environment, you should provide them with gloves or other clothing that will both allow them to be comfortable, and to carry out their duties safely.

Slips, trips and falls

Along with cold weather can come ice, meaning that outdoor spaces like car parks and storage areas can easily become a hazard. If a customer, employee or contractor falls on ice on your property, you may be liable for any injuries that they sustain.

It’s much cheaper to clear your outdoor spaces and grit your walkways, than to pay to defend yourself from a civil suit brought against you as the result of a fall.

Temperature within the workplace

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the employer to determine what a reasonable comfortable temperature will be in the particular circumstances of the work being undertaken.

For example, just because you can make your office 26*c, doesn’t mean that you should, or even that you are obligated to do so.

The HSE’s approved code of practice states that the minimum temperature for a workplace should be at least 13 degrees Celsius if rigorous physical work is taking place, or at least 16 degrees Celsius as a normal rule of thumb.

However, when looking at temperature in the workplace, it pays to focus on what temperature will provide the best productivity for the people in the workplace.

You should also consider any drafts caused by cracks in masonry, windows, under doors and even keyholes that may make the working environment less comfortable.

COVID-19 and heating

To prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, effective ventilation and spacing between employees, customers, contractors and other is essential. However, maintaining effective levels of ventilation can become difficult in the winter compared to the warmer temperatures of the summer, as any open window can cause the temperature to crash.

You should avoid using closed circuit heating systems such as air conditioning units that operate by recirculating the air within rooms. Any heating fans should be positioned in a way that means they’re not pointing air flow at other persons.

Fire Risk

It is also crucial to consider the increased fire risk associated with portable heaters. Fan heaters can become clogged with dust when they are unused, or during their operation and can be susceptible to fires.

They often demand a considerable supply of electricity to work and can easily become hot and start fires if they are faulty.

Electrical radiant heaters are renowned for setting things on fire, such as soft furnishings, clothing and combustible materials. Make sure that radiant heaters are positioned to ensure that they’re not too close to any flammable materials.
Ensure that any portable heater is PAT safe BEFORE it is used.


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