This winter is said to become the coldest since 2010/11 when Britain was battling sub-zero temperatures and severe frost country-wide. Already freezing temperatures are foreshadowing what this “year of the snowstorm” might look like.
This is the time to gear up for winter: employers need to be thinking about how they can mitigate risks that come with the season, training workers in health and safety and making sure the company is compliant with legal regulations.
These 5 areas can be a good place to start when trying to assess the level of compliance regarding winter-specific hazards in and outside the office.
Slipping into high breaching fees
Winter is the time of wet and oozy paths, frozen ground, rain, snow, slush… and many other chances to slip and hit the pavement. If workers or even civilians are injured on company ground, the employer is looking at hefty fees, not to forget the public consequences of civil claims, which can damage a company’s image.
Companies need to make sure that every potential slippery surface is treated with the right type of grit. That means considering less obvious spaces – like shortcuts or carparks – and applying grit after rainfall/snowfall, as otherwise the grit will wash away. Also, warning signs need to be put up to help civilians to identify risks.
Employees need to be trained on how to set up warning signs and shutoffs effectively. To make sure everyone is clear on how to handle certain situations, work distribution sheets need to be created that state who is responsible for doing which task.
Freezing temperatures complicate working outside
Industries that involve working outside, like construction or engineering, will be highly affected by the change in temperatures. Some work might be possible to reschedule for spring or be done inside instead, but sometimes workers will just have to put up with standing outside in the cold.
In this case, it is the employer’s obligation to guarantee access to facilities, where workers can warm up during (frequent) breaks. Being cold is not only uncomfortable, it also compromises one’s ability to judge situations accurately and thus should not be taken lightly: work gets rushed, which leads to sloppy mistakes that can threaten the whole operation and everyone involved in it.
As soon as temperatures drop, workers need to be trained on how to arm for the cold. Wearing the right clothing is important – and trickier to get right than one might think. Instead of thick clothing pieces, layering multiple thinner layers is key: that way workers can take off sweaty inner layers during break easily and stay dry and comfortable. Different materials make a difference, for clothes, as well as for gloves, gear and helmets.
The danger of icy roads
Driving during winter is always more stressful – roads are fuller, people are in a rush to get home, and on top of that weather conditions aggravate the overall situation. There are more accidents, more car break-downs, more deaths.
Whilst driving for work cannot be avoided, employers must take measures to mitigate the risk of road accidents by ensuring that every vehicle is using the correct tires and training workers on how to check instruments and engines properly. Frost can cause damage to vehicles that are left outside overnight. Every person operating a machine or vehicle needs to check all functions every morning before usage.
This can only be ensured if safety training and schoolings occur frequently. Especially when seasons change, every worker should be updated on all new machinery etc. and be taking HSE coursed to refresh their memory.
The season of colds
There is no safe way to prevent catching a cold. But there are methods that can decrease the chances, such as washing hands often, cleaning dishes and plates thoroughly, or having a healthy meal for lunch that boosts your immune system with plenty of vitamins.
The temperature in the office is an important factor. Staff should know how to heat and ventilate the office properly, as too little fresh air can make you tired, but a draughty office space provokes getting ill. The same goes for ventilation: if the heating is turned on for too long, the air will get dry which causes the throat and eyes to feel itchy.
Installing a thermometer in the office might help with checking if the temperature is at the correct level, which should never be lower than 16°C. Providing access to hot drinks and fresh fruit for example, will help workers to feel cosy and energised while it’s storming outside.
Winter sadness and its impact at work
Feeling down during this time of year is completely normal – shorter days with less sunlight causes the brain to produce less melatonin, which makes us feel tired and even mildly depressed. People already suffering from mental health problems might struggle more than usual with workloads, deadlines, productivity and overall well-being.
Talking about mental health at work is important to help workers feel safe by creating an environment in which talking about depression or anxiety is no taboo. Making staff come up with excuses for why they’re being less productive, constantly taking sick leave, etc. only makes it harder to feel understood. Companies need to provide access to helplines and encourage openness about mental illnesses to create a safe and healthy environment at work.
Where to start
Health and safety risks during this time of year are manifold and hard to grasp. Tackling these mentioned areas though can help employers to get a vague idea of where to start gearing up for this coming winter. Also, online health and safety quizzes can help figuring out a company’s current level of compliance. Nevertheless, an extensive and legitimate assessment can only be carried out by a professional.