January 12th, 2022
Winter Workplace Safety Guide
Keep Your Workforce Warm and Safe this Winter
Do you have employees working in cold weather and want to ensure they are safe? During the autumn and winter seasons, your workers face increased risks, and there are many things you can do to keep them safe.
Safeguarding your most valuable asset (your people) is not just advisable from a business perspective, it’s the decent thing to do as an employer of humans!
With reduced daylight hours, cold weather, ice and rain, slips and trip accidents are at an all time high. Keeping your workers safe with cold weather equipment and improving winter workplace safety during harsher conditions is your duty.
Tips for How Employers Can Help Staff Working in Winter
There are numerous effective measures you can take to ensure your staff stay safe while working in cold weather. Regardless of the size of your site or nature of work, there are always ways to ensure the safest possible work practises while working in winter. However, the risk of workplace accidents, catching a cold or flu or being affected by extreme weather conditions is a reality.
From outdoor winter gear to using correct signage, here are some tips and advice for how your employees can be protected during the colder months and practise winter workplace safety.
It is the employer’s duty to make sure a workplace is safe. The employer needs to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the workplace risks and identify solutions and practises to minimise those risks. This is an all-year requirement, but working in cold weather brings new hazards and considerations to winter workplace safety.
Additional measures while working in winter include assessing access to work areas, visibility, snow days and your workers’ cold weather equipment. Thinking about these potential issues ahead of time will significantly decrease the likelihood of workplace accidents.
Suitable Protective Workwear
It is essential to provide your workers with the appropriate outdoor winter gear and cold weather equipment to prevent illness and injury at work.
Examples of protective workwear include high visibility workwear in areas with low or no lights or thicker workwear that will keep your workers comfortable, waterproof and warm and be able to protect them from the elements. Additionally, it also has to be legally compliant.
Visibility is critical in your workplace. While your staff are working in winter, you need to make sure your workers are able to see and avoid possible hazards at any time of day.
The easiest way to assess the suitability of lighting is to ask your staff or inspect your site at different times of the day. Evaluating how to improve lighting and maintain visibility resources and equipment is imperative to your workers’ safety.
Slips and Falls
Slips and trips are the most common cause of workplace injuries. This risk is amplified during winter and the colder months due to fallen leaves, rainfall, ice, and snow. It is the employer’s responsibility to handle these hazards, and ensure there are safe work practises to keep staff safe while working in winter. If you fail to do so, you could be held accountable if an incident were to occur.
There are several steps you can take to reduce the occurrence of different cold weather hazards:
Fallen leaves can create slip risks when wet or have started to decay and can hide other potential hazards. Putting in place a procedure that regularly removes these will eliminate risk.
Rainwater can turn usually suitable surfaces into hazards. You can fit slip-resistant materials to your site, fit canopies over building entrances and discourage workers from taking shortcuts over grass and dirt as they are likely to become wet and slippery.
In the case of ice, frost, or snow, make sure you have a procedure put in place and signage to alert you to weather conditions.
Your cold weather safety strategy can include diverting pedestrians to less slippery routes, blocking unsafe surfaces, and using grit in your exposed workplace areas. Gritting is relatively cheap and can reduce the risk of slips on icy surfaces.
Colds and Flu (and COVID-19)
Our immune systems are lower during the colder months, making us more susceptible to catching the common cold and flu. In addition, the workplace can be the perfect environment for the germs to spread as they are generally small enclosed spaces. Though there are no legal requirements to prevent the spreading of these germs, sick staff can lead to low morale and a decrease in productivity.
We’ve covered the impact of Covid in the UK workforce previously, and it’s an ever-evolving situation with the new Omicron variant reportedly yet to peak, so following official government guidelines is, of course, always crucial for an organisation.
You can take steps to prevent the spreading of illnesses through the workplace by providing suitable outdoor winter gear, encouraging regular hand washing and covering their mouths and noses when coughing and sneezing.
Furthermore, for offices and enclosed workplaces, you can improve air quality with plants and take steps to improve air circulation. You can also offer your staff the chance to have the flu jab. Though these steps won’t eradicate the risk, they will improve the conditions.
Another significant health and safety risk is lone working. The risks to working in cold weather alone significantly increase during winter. If a lone worker is injured in a remote area, they are hard to reach if weather conditions are poor and the elements are harsher and more dangerous. Prolonged exposure to cold weather poses detrimental health risks, and in extreme weather, communication signals can be poor.
Unless lone working is essential, it should be avoided in the colder months.
However, if it is necessary, you should review your risk assessment and introduce new measures to keep your staff safe. Examples of measures to improve winter workplace safety include regular location confirmation and check-in procedures. It’s also worth noting that both physical and ongoing mental health support is required for lone workers in general.
The Risks of Unsuitable Working Conditions
Winter conditions shouldn’t prevent your business from continuing to operate, unless in extreme circumstances. However, if your procedures aren’t up to date or satisfactory, you can face many risks if your workers are in unsafe conditions.
Health and Safety
Per the The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, it’s noted that working in the extreme cold brings numerous health and safety risks. The risks associated include:
- Hypothermia: an abnormal drop in core body temperature if your workers have unsuitable outdoor winter gear
- Frostbite or chilblains: frost damage to body tissues of feet, hands, ears, or nose
- Accident-related injuries from slips or falls
- Reduced blood flow to the fingers
- Musculoskeletal disorders
In addition to standard manual handling safety measures, your health and safety guidelines should include specific provisions for protecting those on your workforce who may be exposed to cold conditions.
Right to Withdraw and Loss of Productivity
If working conditions are unsafe or unsuitable, employees have the right to withdraw from work. This is also the case if equipment or machinery is unsatisfactory or defective. If no suitable arrangements are made for your staff such as replacement or repairing of equipment, they can refuse to work without loss of pay.This will lead to a decline in productivity and trust in an employer, and legal action could be faced.
Construction workers, agricultural workers and employees regularly working outdoors will be most affected if an employer’s work provisions are unsatisfactory.
Protect Your Workers with the Best Form of Proactivity
Providing your workers with the appropriate cold weather equipment during the winter months is vital. There are many ways you can protect your staff from the cold weather, from improving visibility at your worksite to preventing slips and falls. Being proactive and ensuring you’ve got a coherent set of winter working standards in place is the best course of action – the old adage of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail‘ has never been truer when it comes to mitigating against workplace risk and ensuring your team have the best possible working standards not just in winter, but all year round.
Here at RollPallet UK, we can help you with providing your workforce with the equipment they need to work safely during the colder months with high quality and reliable products. Keeping your workers safe is imperative to maintain your company’s success.
Please feel free to contact us today for a chat about how we can assist you making your workspace a place of safety and one which your workers will appreciate.