Under health and safety legislation, you as an employer have a legal duty to ensure the safety of all the people in your workplace.
This can be particularly challenging during the winter months due to extreme weather conditions, including snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
That said, employees should be safe at work, regardless of the weather. Prevention is crucial to managing workplace winter safety, as is involving your staff in maintaining winter safety and reinforcing everybody’s responsibility for safety.
Remember, workplace injuries not only result in lost work hours but safety violations can also lead to costly fines!
So, let’s look at a range of winter safety tips, aimed at making your business a safe place to work and visit during the winter months.
Slips, trips and falls
The colder months will naturally increase the chances of slips, trips and falls in the workplace, specifically outside of the workplace.
Pathways, steps, entrances, exits and car parks may need daily gritting to ensure they are safe to use. Keep an eye on weather forecasts and when freezing temperatures are predicted, make sure to grit and salt paths, as well as roads and car parks if you’re on private land, to reduce the risk of accidents.
Work-wear / PPE
For staff working outside during the winter months, ensure that they have adequate protection from the elements in the form of proper PPE (personal protective equipment).
For example; hats, gloves, waterproof clothing, suitable footwear and clothing to keep them warm and dry whilst they work. Naturally, replace any worn or defective work-wear as soon as possible to ensure adequate protection at all times.
Working outdoors in the winter months and severe weather conditions can be very challenging, so ensure that your employees are properly equipped.
Wet and icy roads can create hazardous driving conditions and challenge even the most experienced of drivers.
Firstly, make sure your cars, or fleet of cars, are in the proper condition to tackle these conditions. Make regular checks on things such as tyre treads, tyre pressures, headlights, indicators, heaters (blowers), windscreen wipers, wiper fluid, anti-freeze and emergency equipment in case of a breakdown.
Some businesses will actually issue a winter-driving kit to staff to keep in the boot should an emergency arise.
This should contain;
- Torch with spare batteries
- Ice scraper and de-icer
- Jumper cables
- Road maps
- Warm clothes and blankets
- High-vis jacket
- Boots with a good grip
- First-aid kit (not just a winter item!)
- Empty fuel can
- Reflective warning signs
- In-car phone charger
In extreme weather, the best advice is to avoid any unnecessary journeys and where possible, allow staff to work from home.
Gutters and Drains
Depending on the location of your business, you may be situated in an area with lots of trees, bushes and greenery nearby, most of which have shed their leaves during the Autumn months.
Not only can they clog up drains, gutters and downpipes causing blockages but they can also present a slip hazard on paths.
Carry our regular maintenance activities and checks to ensure that pathways, drains, gutters and downpipes are clear of leaves and that water drains freely away. Where necessary, take action to replace or repair any damaged items.
Check your heating systems
Clearly, prevention is better than cure so make sure you carry out regular or timely services on your heating system.
This is best done before the colder months arrive, so try and plan ahead and set up a regular service schedule in preparation for winter.
Yes, believe it or not, the colder months increase the chances of staff members pulling muscles.
When the weather gets colder, muscles contract and tighten, which makes them more prone to injury. Regular stretching during winter months can help prevent muscle pulls, back pain and sciatica.
Lone working procedures
For staff that work, or live, remotely, the winter months could present times when travelling to and from work, meetings and appointments become difficult, or in extreme cases, impossible.
Particularly for staff who live in rural areas, snow and ice can mean they can’t get out of their driveways or roads.
Review your policies and make sure you have procedures in place to deal with these situations.
With the darker nights, visibility can be an issue. Pathways, walkways and car parks will naturally be at risk from ice during the colder months and if these are also poorly lit, it could be the perfect storm for slips, trips and falls.
Survey your business and surrounding paths to ensure that there is adequate lighting in place. Ask your staff members for feedback on areas where they struggle with visibility and where, perhaps, additional lighting can be installed.
Additional lighting could also provide better security, for the business and your staff. Poorly lit areas could present an opportunity for thieves and attacks on staff members, so make sure every part of the business and the approach to your business is well-lit.
Where staff need to walk to their cars in the dark, try and encourage them to walk in pairs or groups for the benefit of everyone’s safety.
Outdoor workers are at a greater risk of cold stress.
Cold stress occurs when the body temperature drops too low for the body to heat itself, which can lead to severe cold-related illnesses, for example, hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot.
The signs of hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot:
- Shivering or shaking
- Lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or confusion
- Slurred speech
- Skin that is very cold and turns numb, hard and pale
- Blisters or swelling
- Joint or muscle stiffness
- Tingling sensation
- Pain and swelling
- Leg cramps
Left untreated, these can result in permanent tissue damage or even death.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
The winter months bring an increased risk of fatal carbon monoxide poisoning, due to the constant running of heating systems.
Check the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector regularly – having your heating system serviced as mentioned earlier, will also minimise the chances of it breaking down when you need it most.
Dehydration during the winter months may sound a little surprising, however, dehydration is as common in the colder winter months as it is in the warmer summer months.
As the weather gets cold, many people will layer up in clothing, which naturally causes them to sweat more. In cold conditions, sweat evaporates quicker, tricking your brain in to not realising you are losing water. This can leave a physical worker extremely dehydrated.
A dehydrated body is also more susceptible to common colds and flu so ensure that your staff are adequately hydrated during the winter months, particularly those working outside.
Staff coming to work sick
Winter weather isn’t the only safety hazard companies have to face during the winter months. With a drop in temperatures, levels of sickness naturally increase with common colds and flu the biggest culprits.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t deter some employees from coming into the office – and, whilst this may seem like the admirable thing to do, it could actually be detrimental to everyone else.
By doing so, these employees are not only putting every other staff member at risk, but they may possibly take longer to recover, where a day in bed may actually help them recover quicker.
Encourage employees not to come into the office when they’re sick. Where possible, allow them to work from home or simply take some proper time off to recover.
Provide Winter Safety Training
With the arrival of colder weather, there are naturally many more precautions your workers need to take and hazards that they need to be aware of.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to provide specific winter safety training, covering the areas we’ve covered in this article, or perhaps even an advanced driving course.
With proper procedures you can effectively minimise any risks – plus, having the right procedures in place will help you to ensure you can correctly manage any incidents that do happen.
- Undertake a winter risk assessment of your business premises/activities and identify all potential risks – then create a plan to ensure that the risk is minimised
- Appoint someone to be responsible for winter health and safety activity and identify any training needs they may have to complete their job effectively
- Set some key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress against the plan
- Regularly monitor and review the plan and adapt the plan where necessary
- Ensure that you communicate your winter health and safety procedures to all members of staff so that they know what to do if an incident occurs
As an employer, it is your duty to keep your workforce safe. That said, it’s not solely up to you.
The best way to prevent accidents and injuries associated with winter weather is to adopt the attitude that safety is everyone’s responsibility, be that in a large, medium or small business.
Employers must initiate safety procedures so that every employee knows how to prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace and what to do in the event of an emergency.
Through regular training, a culture of ‘safety first’ can become a natural part of how your business operates.
If you are interested in finding out more about what Acorn Health and Safety can do for your business, give us a call on 0117 958 2070, or you prefer e-mail email us: firstname.lastname@example.org