13 Dec 2022

Winter health and safety hazards in the workplace – what to look for

battling against winter health and safety hazards in the workplace

Winter is here! Among the festivities, employers must consider the additional challenges that winter weather brings. Promoting workplace health and safety is essential, to maintain a safe and resilient environment. Take a look at the tips below to learn about potential winter health and safety hazards and what you can do to prevent any accidents.

Slips, Trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls, account for 36% of employee injuries. (HSE statistics, 2020). They accounted for nearly 6 in 10 specified injuries and almost 3 in 10 over-seven-day injuries to employees. They are mainly caused by:

Inadequate Lighting

With increasingly short days comes an absence of natural light and therefore trip hazards may not be visible. Make sure all walkways are well-lit and clearly marked. If needed, install additional lighting along outdoor paths. Communicate with staff to ensure that lighting is suitable and sufficient.

Rain Water

Rain water on grass, dirt or leaves makes surfaces slippery. Make sure employees don’t take dangerous shortcuts.

Ice, Frost and Snow

Ice makes ground conditions treacherous. It is essential to try and prevent falls. Check weather forecasts and section off dangerous areas in freezing temperatures. Workers should take short steps and walk at a slower pace, they can then react quickly to changes in ground traction. Grit or salt icy walking pathways and car parks (using appropriate equipment, such as wheeled grit spreaders, which will reduce any potential manual handling issues). Using slip-resistant mats in entrance ways will also make a difference.

Working Temperatures

There is no law for minimum working temperatures. Your working environment should be comfortable. Average recommended temperature is 16°C or 13°C for physical work (recommendations from HSE).

Electrical heaters can be a great way to keep warm – especially if you only want to warm up one room. However, they should be used with care. London Fire Brigade figures, show that over the past five years more than 800 fires were caused by electrical heaters. Tragically, a third of electrical fires involving heaters resulted in a fatality. More fires occur when it is colder.

Tips to prevent fires with portable heaters include:

  • Heaters should be well maintained and in good working order
  • Check that your heater isn’t on a recall list – there have been many fires in the past year connected to heaters that have been recalled
  • Never install, repair or service appliances yourself. Make sure anyone who does is registered with the Gas Safe Register (for gas appliances), the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme (HETAS) (for solid fuel appliances), or the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) (for oil appliances).
  • Don’t take risks with old heaters – if it’s electrical and getting older, get it tested by a qualified electrician or buy a new one
  • Where appropriate, secure heaters against a wall to stop them falling over, or fit wall-mounted heaters
  • Keep heaters well away from clothes, curtains and furniture and never use them for drying clothes
  • Always sit at least one metre away from a heater, as it could set light to your clothes or chair
  • Before attempting to move your heater, turn it off and allow it to cool first
  • Always turn heaters off when employees leave for the day

Cold Stress – what is it?

Cold stress is a condition where the body is unable to warm itself. It can lead to far worse than a cold, such as frostbite, chilblains, hypothermia and trench foot. Effective employee safety risk management, includes ensuring workers know how to dress appropriately for the winter conditions. So, what essential winter PPE should be worn?

  • A minimum of three layers of loose-fitting clothing are recommended: The inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic (polypropylene) keeps moisture away from the body. The middle layer of wool or synthetic provides insulation. The insulated outer layer protects from wind and rain, ideally with some ventilation to prevent overheating
  • Hats (should cover the head and ears) NB – only approved hard hat liners should be worn under hard hats (no hoodies)
  • Gloves (insulated and water-resistant)
  • Boots (insulated and waterproof, with good rubber tread)
  • Hi-vis jackets (especially during dark mornings/dark afternoons). These should be regularly inspected to ensure that they are clean and still offering hi-visibility protection. There is not a defined period of time a hi-vis garment will last; it depends on its condition. As a rule of thumb, a hi-vis garment will last for around 25 washes to be legally compliant.

Inform your employees about cold stress

Aside from training workers how to select suitable clothing for winter conditions, companies should ensure workers are informed about cold stress, particularly:

  • Environmental conditions that can lead to cold stress – cold temperatures, high or cold wind and dampness
  • Non-conditional risk factors that contribute to cold stress – predisposing health conditions (hypertension, hypothyroidism, diabetes), poor physical conditioning and exhaustion
  • The types of cold stress, the symptoms of each type and proper first aid

Additionally, protect workers that are constantly exposed to the weather. Consider additional heating and regular breaks and offer warm drinks to your staff. Bear in mind that cold stress can negatively impact people’s concentration, alertness and physical health, giving way to many more potential hazards.

Driving in hazardous conditions

Driving in extreme weather conditions presents additional hazards. You may not be able to control road conditions, but you can prevent workplace accidents by following the guidance below:

  • If the weather allows travel, promote safe winter driving. Encourage employees to plan their journeys carefully, bypassing potentially untreated roads, factoring in extra time, missing peak times and avoiding steep hills.
  • Here is a useful link to send to your employees to help them to stay safe on the roads: https://www.rospa.com/media/documents/road-safety/factsheets/winter-driving-factsheet.pdf
  • Develop an Extreme Weather Policy, that places worker safety at the forefront. If working remotely is feasible, this should be considered to limit workers’ exposure to the elements unnecessarily.
  • In the workplace, ensure workers are properly licensed for all of the vehicles they operate.
  • Train workers to conduct safety checks of company vehicles. Equip all company vehicles with an emergency kit if necessary (recommended to include: a tow rope, hazard warning triangle, de-icing equipment, first aid kit, torch, car blanket, warm clothes, emergency rations, mobile phone).
  • Ensure workers can recognise the winter health and safety hazards of driving. Know what to do if they are ever stranded in a vehicle.
  • If workers visit multiple worksites in a day, plan for extra driving time so they aren’t tempted to drive faster than is necessary

Preparation is Key to reduce risk

  • Perform a risk assessment, to assess the potential hazards and possible further control measures that may be required to reduce risk
  • Involve and inform staff on emergency planning procedures
  • Ensure you have available supplies of grit/salt and storage bins, de-icing products, shovels, wheeled grit spreaders, screen wash etc.
  • Carry out routine preventative maintenance throughout the year and check roofs, gutters etc.
  • Have backups in place for power outages
  • Implement a quick and easy incident reporting system should an accident or near miss occur. Action can then be taken to put preventative measures in place for the future.

Suspending non-emergency work during extremely hazardous weather conditions may be your safest bet. When outdoor work can’t stop in harsh weather and travel is unavoidable, following these guidelines helps to maintain a safer, more positive work environment. If you need any hands-on practical help that can improve your safety levels in the workplace, or you are looking to purchase some winter safety products, please feel free to email info@sentinelsafety.co.uk or call us on 01527 833834, we’re happy to help.

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