Every year families and friends celebrate the winter months with joyous memories, delicious food, and crackling fires. But for employers and employees alike, the cold season can bring about many risks and challenges that affect the way businesses operate. Most importantly, winter weather conditions pose a threat to the safety of many workers across a wide variety of industries.
With the rise in remote working, certain cold weather hazards have diminished, such as winter driving, which may prevent accidents to and from the workplace. Remote working in the winter weather may however bring about many other problems, such as worsening mental health issues and isolation from teams.
Read on to explore the ways in which employers can help reduce risks for their employees in the winter months, and discover how you can support your employees throughout the cold season.
There are many hazards that are a direct result of winter weather conditions that can occur both inside and outside of the workplace, all of which can impact your employee’s safety.
With the nights drawing in and roads becoming icy, being aware of the risks that winter brings will go a long way in protecting your employees. These winter hazards should be considered when forming strategies and calculated risk management protocols:
Slips and trips are one of the most common injuries to occur within the workplace, accounting for 40% of all workplace injuries – never mind within the winter months. Be mindful of current trip hazards and alleviate any additional risks that may occur on slippery surfaces during icier weather.
Between 2016 and 2020, 44783 traffic accidents occurred in wintry conditions. Employees driving to work will experience a variety of new hazards. Increased chances of rain and fog reduce visibility on the roads, whilst black ice poses a serious threat when driving on ungritted roads.
The winter blue can affect any staff members, including those working from home. In 2018, 44% of workers say they experienced workplace blues during the winter months, with one-third of them experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The winter season brings about many general illnesses, such as the common cold and influenza. Make sure you are prepared for the spike in cases with workplace flu jabs and keep your workforce protected.
In certain circumstances, the UK winter weather can present many unforeseen circumstances that, at a moment’s notice, can disrupt the working operations of your business.
Roads may close due to traffic accidents, environmental hazards may disrupt public transport routes, and very quickly you may be confronted with unavoidable staff absences.
In some industries, working in extreme weather conditions is a part of the job. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that all safety measures are in place to protect your staff, and to abide by health and safety laws.
When working in extremely cold temperatures, it is important to ensure that you are adequately dressed, ensuring that no skin is uncovered. Ensure that your employees wear plenty of layers, including gloves and mittens if they do not restrict their work activities. If they start to sweat, it’s important that they are able to remove layers of clothing and still remain warm.
Employees should bring spare clothing in the case of rain also. Working in wet clothing is not safe and increases the risk of hypothermia.
In outdoor work environments where high winds are prevalent, make sure that you can protect your employees with adequate shelter. High winds not only make work activities more difficult to perform, they also increase the risk of hypothermia. If it starts to rain, ensure that your employees are able to retreat to shelter as soon as possible.
In extremely adverse conditions, power outages may occur. Businesses that are left without power may lose all adequate lighting required to keep their employees safe. There may be unseen risks around the building that now pose serious trip hazards. On top of this, it may no longer be possible to adequately heat the property.
Flooding may occur when a heavy amount of rain falls within a short period of time. Rivers rise, and areas that are inadequately prepared for excess water can very quickly become overwhelmed. Flooded routes become inaccessible and in some cases properties become waterlogged. In the event of flooding within your business, damage may occur to electronic equipment that will no longer be safe to use. Water on the floor also creates unsafe conditions for working, with slips and falls much more likely.
Whilst it is not possible to eliminate all risks posed in the winter months, there are many precautions you can take as an employer to help keep your employees safe.
Expect delays in traffic as congestion builds on the roads. Not only will drivers be more cautious in adverse weather conditions, but accidents are more likely to occur on snowy and icy roads.
To help prevent additional delays and accidents on the roads, promote safe winter driving for drivers in your workforce. These are skills that will protect your employees and their families from hazards presented in winter conditions.
Grit your pathways before the end of the day to prepare your paths for the cold nights. Grit/salt rock prevents ice from forming in the applied areas, and can provide extra grip on the ground. If your workplace is close to trees and shrubbery, be mindful to remove any fallen leaves. These can become very slippery when wet and present hazards leading up to the workplace.
Remind employees to wear appropriate clothing to stay warm in colder working environments, including appropriate footwear for slippier surfaces. Thermals can be worn underneath work outfits to remain warm throughout the day.
For employees that are working outdoors, make sure they are aware of conditions such as cold stress. Educating employees about cold stress injuries and how to prevent them can help keep staff-absence low, and protect your employees from unnecessary injury.
Conducting a risk assessment, or having an occupational health service conduct a risk assessment for you, will identify any potential hazards that may occur during the winter. Any potential risks spotted will be given the appropriate action to prevent them, leaving your workplace fit and safe to work within the winter months.
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