Most of us don’t enjoy the cold weather at this time of year, but for those who work outdoors it’s not only unpleasant, but also quite high risk. There are a large number of health problems exacerbated by winter temperatures, from bronchitis to stiff joints, asthma and fatigue. This means that, in order to keep your staff members safe and free of injury and illness, it’s really important that you put the right measures in place.
These risks to health are increased even at relatively mild temperatures of around 10 degrees Celsius. For those who work outdoors all day, accompanying winter weather conditions such as wind and rain make the hazards of colder climes even greater. This leads to an increased prevalence amongst outdoor workers of common colds, stiff joints and general fatigue, as well as more serious illnesses like bronchitis and flare-ups of asthma.
How to combat these dangers
When looking for solutions to these problems, the onus should fall on employers rather than their workers. Although you cannot predict or change the weather, you do have a legal responsibility to ensure that your employees are equipped to face it. This means that they should be provided with proper training on how to work in cold weather, and should also receive the necessary equipment to help them cope with wintry conditions. Explicit safety procedures should be put in place to deal with the possibility of ice, rain, or any other extreme weather conditions, and your workers should be made aware of these.
In the event of especially cold or wet weather, you may also need to carry out a risk assessment before any contracted work goes ahead. If this is necessary, you need to consider whether the work can be carried out elsewhere, rescheduled, or employee exposure lessened by hiring more workers to assist them. If any of these options are possible, then they ought to be given precedence over alternatives. In all but emergency situations, you will actually find that your duty of care makes it explicitly clear that work should not go ahead.
If it is decided that it is safe and work must go ahead in extreme cold weather conditions, then you have a duty to your employees to provide them with appropriate cold or wet weather clothing. In addition to this, you must ensure that there are adequate facilities available for changing, drying, and the storage of clothing and possessions.
The rules on gloves, in particular, are explicit: if the temperature drops below 4 degrees Celsius and you’re conducting ‘light work’, then you must provide protective gloves. If you’re carrying out ‘heavy work’, then employees must wear these when the temperature is below -7 degrees Celsius.
You are also obliged to give your employees the opportunity to take ‘warm-up breaks’. These must be offered in a space that is heated, close by and easy to access. Hot food and drinks should be on offer in this area.
It really is important that you abide by your responsibilities when the temperatures drop. If you fail to do so, you’ll be increasing your employees’ risks of contracting illnesses like colds and bronchitis, which will not only impact their health but also your productivity. Equally, you’ll be increasing the risk of injuries at work, as studies have shown that spending all day extremely cold or wet can impair employee judgement. If you care about your staff members and the future of your business, be sensible this winter and take the precautions necessary to keep those you’re responsible for safe.