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Working Safely in Cold Weather Conditions

Now that winter and colder temperatures are approaching it is time to get prepared and think about how harsher weather conditions, such as snow and ice, may affect your workplace and workforce.

The temperature of the workplace is one of the potential hazards that employers should address to meet their legal obligations. Temperatures in the indoor workplace are covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which place a legal obligation on employers to provide a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace. The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements; the employer has a duty to determine what reasonable comfort will be in the particular circumstances.

In addition to the Workplace Regulations, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to make a suitable assessment of the risks to the health and safety of their employees, and take action where necessary and where reasonably practicable.

At times of extreme and dangerous weather it is essential that communication is retained throughout the workforce. Staff must be instructed as to what the company policy is, how to follow it, and who to communicate with if they have any queries. Other factors to consider include:

  • Emergency arrangements – due to low staffing levels consideration needs to be given to arrangements for dealing with emergencies such as failures of safety critical systems, persons trapped in lifts, first aid incidents, fire evacuations, power failures, workplace temperatures falling below the minimum guidelines etc.

  • Working from home – home working might be seen as a solution, but employers should be aware that it is also their responsibility to ensure their employees’ health and safety if they are working from home.

  • Driving for work – it should be ensured drivers are allowed extra time to complete journeys and factor in alternative routes, and that they are not pressurised to complete any journeys made dangerously difficult by the weather. Company vehicles should be provided with suitable equipment for the conditions eg. winter tyres.

  • Slips, trips and falls – walking to and from car parks or between buildings at work during this weather requires special attention to avoid slipping and falling. Slips and falls are some of the most frequent types of injuries during the winter months. Employees should be reminded to avoid boots or shoes with smooth soles and heels, such as plastic and leather soles and instead, wear a pair of well insulated boots with good rubber treads and to walk slowly and with shorter steps when on icy surfaces. Main pathways and steps should be cleared as far as possible of snow and ice to allow safe access to buildings.

  • Contractors – it is important to consider contractors, freelancers and part time staff. Make sure you have a list of ways to contact all people who usually work within your workplace.

  • Members of the public – ensure that suitable and sufficient signage is displayed to inform the public of important information.

When working outdoors the weather can have influence an individual's effectiveness and this is not readily managed using just engineering controls. In these circumstances some of the most effective ways of managing these environments are to introduce some simple administrative controls for example:

  • ensure the personal protective equipment issued is appropriate

  • provide mobile facilities for warming up, and encourage the drinking of warm fluids such as soup or hot drinks

  • introduce more frequent rest breaks

  • consider delaying the work – can it be undertaken at warmer times of the year without compromising on safety?

  • educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of cold stress

Whilst many people may not be able to travel to their workplaces, business does not have to stop entirely in such circumstances. With good business continuity and safety policies in place, together with a good communication system, business can continue to operate.

For any further help in preparing your business for the upcoming winter please contact us here.

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