How to stay safe working in the winter
Adverse weather conditions introduce and increase a range of hazards for many businesses. Such as cold stress for outdoor workers, slips, trips and falls for all staff or dangerous driving conditions for motorists. Employees should be safe at work, regardless of the weather. Prevention is crucial to manage workplace winter safety, so promote a strong workplace safety culture. Staff involvement in maintaining winter safety and reinforcing everybody’s responsibility for safety – makes a healthy working environment.
Slips, Trips and Falls
Slips and trips can be harmless. However these accidents account for 15% of accidental deaths at work and the number are increasing. Meanwhile 40% of reported accidents in UK employers lose £512 million annually in lost production.
Businesses need control the risks and this can be done by preparation. Have policies and procedures ready to implement when, inevitably, the weather changes. All businesses should carry out weather risk assessments to ensure appropriate controls are documented.
Here are some of the top causes
Winter means early nights and cold mornings. You leave and arrive at work in the dark. Consequently, trip hazards can go undetected. Install bright lighting on outdoor workplace paths, and ask staff for their concerns.
Wet and decaying leaves
Wet leaves are slippery, so schedule regular maintenance to the outside areas.
Not all accidents are caused by snow and ice. Grass and dirt also becomes slippery when wet, so discourage shortcuts over green garden areas.
Ice, frost and snow
Keep an eye on weather forecasts and temperatures, and grit icy pathways and section off dangerous areas when it falls to freezing. When paths are slippery with ice or snow, companies must grit them accordingly. Keep in mind that grit can be washed away by heavy rain, so grit before and after rainfall. If you don’t have time and resources to continually grit, at least put up warning signs. Measuring temperature alone isn’t meaningful when it comes to determining whether working conditions are comfortable or not. Wind and rain can worsen a situation immensely. The body loses 25 to 30 times more heat when in wet conditions as compared to dry conditions.
The employer needs to:
- Provide wet weather clothing, changing facilities and staff training on weather appropriate clothing.
- Ensure workers are dressed in many layers rather than a few, thick clothing pieces.
In a job that requires exercise or heavy physical work, employees will be sweating underneath top layers. Wet layers should be taken off during breaks to reduce the risk of illness. Rain shielding, blankets and emergency supplies should always be provided.
Lack of Gritting
Rock salt stops ice forming and melts existing snow and ice.
Naturally, outdoor workers are at a greater risk of cold stress. It happens when the body temperature drops too low and the body can’t heat itself. Cold stress leads to severe cold related illnesses, such as trench foot, frostbite, chilblains and hypothermia. If untreated, it results in permanent tissue damage or death.
So, what winter PPE is required?
Recommend multiple layers over a single thick garment. Moisture dramatically decreases insulation. Finally, the outer shell depends on whether it’s raining or windy.
Whether employees drive to work or driving is their job’s main component, they must remain vigilant in wintery conditions. If car journeys cannot be avoided, they should be planned carefully and motorists (and vehicles) prepared for all eventualities. If driving is unsafe, do not let employers take the risk. In a good workplace safety culture, employees understand winter safety as everyone’s responsibility. If the weather allows travel, encourage employees to plan journeys, try to keep onto main roads. Prep vehicles before travel.
- Lights are working
- Battery is charged
- Windscreen and wipers are clean, with a full washer bottle
- Tyres are in good condition
- Brakes are working well
- Anti-freeze and car oil are topped up
Your weather policy/risk assessment should make clear the processes to take place when severe weather happens, including who the decision-makers are, and the available alternative work places. Most importantly, placing worker safety at the forefront by deterring staff attempting to travel to work Whether you love or hate the winter weather, we can all agree on its potential hazards. You can tackle them with a company-wide safety culture encouraging staff to report issues, and keeping a close eye on weather conditions.
How the cold affects manual work
Stiff fingers and limbs make manual handling hard. If workers use their hands, they must still operate machines and tools without limitations. Wearing gloves as soon as temperatures drop below 4°C is essential. Different gloves may be available for each environment; different materials work better for specific tasks. Workers must take frequent breaks to avoid getting too cold – this also avoids serious illnesses like frost bite. Cold metal surfaces should be labelled whenever possible, they can cause the skin to freeze and other injuries.
Having the sniffles
It’s easy to catch a cold, especially around November and December. To prevent viruses, wash hands often and thoroughly with soap, and thoroughly wash communal crockery. Both will stop bacteria spreading. Providing hand disinfectant in the office and training staff on how to prevent colds is key: Does everyone know how to heat and ventilate properly? Does everyone have access to the radiator and can turn it on/off themselves? Dry air can make eyes itchy and throats feel dry, so be sure to let fresh air in regularly. Temperatures should never drop below 16°C so visible thermometers should be installed in the office. Hands get cold very easily when working at a computer. Workers should have access to free hot drinks and the option of a healthy, hot meal during lunch. We tend to crave carbs during winter, but in fact we still need vegetables and fruits just as much as in the summer. A lack of vitamins can cause fatigue and loss of concentration – it is advisable to provide healthy options in the cafeteria or an office fruit basket and plenty of fresh drinking water.
Having chronic pain
People with pre existing conditions, like painful joints, stiffness or arthritis, find them worsening during winter. These conditions affect staff productivity and overall well-being so they should not be taken lightly; daily exercise can help and prevent the pain. Exercise maintains healthier sleeping habits, energy and stress levels.
Having the blues
Winter tiredness is common. It’s harder to get out of bed, you might feel sleepy during the day and start to lose focus in the afternoon due to early sunset. Lack of sunlight causes your brain to produce less melatonin, which makes you feel tired. Make sure to have the blinds open in the office and try to be outside as much as possible – even if it’s just a quick walk at lunch time. If possible, move your desk closer to the window. Mental health conditions, such as depression or seasonal affective disorder SAD, can lead people to have a hard time focusing, being unproductive at work or even getting in dangerous situations. Sick leave shouldn’t be restricted to physical illnesses, but mental unwellness too. Providing access to helplines, encouraging openness and making sure support is in place creates an environment in which people feel safe to talk about mental health. Having a Mental Health Wellbeing Policy is essential.
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