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How Cold Weather Affects Employee Safety

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  • 08-09-2021
How Cold Weather Affects Employee Safety

Do you want to find out more about how cold weather affects employee safety? We look at who is at risk in cold weather and the responsibilities of employers to maintain a safe workplace during winter months. 

Who is at Risk in Colder Weather?

When the weather changes and the temperature drops, there are many new hazards presented to a workplace. The health, safety, and welfare of workers are now put at risk, and it's important to evaluate this. Cold weather can affect everyone, but especially those that work outside. 

Workers who are outside for extended periods or who have an exterior workplace can find themselves suffering from the cold more so than their indoor counterparts. This can range from construction workers to police officers, and they must be provided with the correct protective equipment from their employers.

Even if you're working with cold items, such as frozen food or products, or working in cold environments, your time spent at work mustn't be putting your health at risk due to low temperatures. Those who work internally are also vulnerable to the cold and susceptible to getting illnesses. 

For example, a simple cold and flu can spread and cause problems within the workplace. A poorly ventilated office can lead to the spread of viruses, and the norovirus (which is commonly known as the winter vomiting bug) is spread incredibly easily this way.

Of course, it's not just the cold temperature but also the wind that is putting employees at risk, and if the correct equipment is not worn, serious implications could begin to arise. Although you may not feel it, if the outside temperature is 10°C and the wind is 20mph, the body will feel 0°C., becoming a major issue. 

Employers' Duties for Working in Cold Conditions

An employer must meet the Welfare Regulations of 1992, which details the temperature that must be met in the workplace. It's important to recognise when a location is too cold and put precautions in places, such as providing hot drinks, protective clothing and offering breaks for the colder parts of the day. If a particular job can be rescheduled for a warmer part of the day or even a different day altogether, then that is advised.

How Does Cold Weather Affect Employee Safety?

Poor weather and cold conditions are inevitable, though, and employers cannot cancel a job because of it sometimes. This is understandable, and employees aren't asking for this. They are asking to be as safe as possible, and risk assessments should be considered when a task is being evaluated. 

This, of course, includes the supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), where a hazard is presented. Outdoor working is a hazard as it is, and this is only made worse by cold weather. 

If you employ those in construction, for example, ensure that the extremities are protected, i.e. the nose, ears, face, and hands with gloves, hat, and insulated thermal boots.

It is a legal responsibility to perform a risk assessment as an employer, assessing the risks to employee health and safety, and battling temperature is a large hazard, so it's advised to regularly meet and discuss how it can be best navigated. A large factor of this is considering the time exposed to the cold, the hours worked. 

More time will have to be allocated to performing tasks that would typically take less, but due to the weather and protective gear being worn, it increases. This loss of progress can be balanced by rotating workers more regularly, limiting the amount of time an individual is working outdoors, especially during poor weather conditions. 

Workplace health safety is of key importance, especially when against a time crunch. 

How cold can impact an outdoor worker's health?

Even if an employee is in good health, working in cold conditions can quickly change and cause many different illnesses. The most common is dehydration, which is arguably worse in colder temperatures. As workers put on more layers, they begin to sweat more, and this sweat will evaporate quicker than they realise, only leading them not to notice how dehydrated they are. This is why, much like on a hot day, a worker needs to keep their fluids high.

If not wearing protective gear on their extremities, such as gloves, then Raynauds can quickly set in and prevent any work from taking place. This commonly affects fingers and toes, as it temporarily blocks the blood flow due to the cold, which can last up to a few hours in certain cases. 

The most obvious condition is hypothermia, caused when the core body temperature drops by simply 2 degrees. The norm should be 36.5°C-37.5°C, and it's beyond important this is maintained.

How cold can impact an outdoor worker's health?

Painful joints and heart attacks can also be a threat to workers in the cold and can occur in a matter of minutes if not treated seriously. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is what prevents heat loss and other conditions from happening to employees, but it's about balance. When performing manual labour, the body begins to heat up. 

Therefore, the insulation in the PPE must decrease but provide enough to fend off the temperature in the first place. If it's not worn, and the skin temperature drops due to touching cold metals perhaps, then cold stress can set in, and the internal temperature can drop. Any symptoms of any illnesses caused by working outside should be voiced.

Accidents at work caused by slipping on ice and snow

Accidents at work caused by slipping on ice and snow

Comfortable and safe working conditions should be a priority, even so, when travelling to work. If an extended period of exposure to the cold affects you, then this isn't something you should put up with. 

Slipping on ice and snow is a large risk and can cause physical injury that otherwise would be easily avoidable. 

Employers need to realise that it is their duty to protect their employees, not only in the workplace but when travelling to and from.

If you're working inside, and snow and ice are a risk around your workplace, then something needs to be done. This is only amplified if your workplace is external and if snow prevents you from performing your job efficiently. If you are injured, then there is ample opportunity to take legal action against your employer, as the environment in which you work should be a safe place. 

This extends to the car park also, so don't let them walk over you. There should be systems and precautions in place, and if there clearly aren't, you can voice this and claim compensation.

Concerns can also be raised about the lighting level at your work because if you cannot adequately see the floor, you are more likely to slip or trip over those hazards. This can lead to sprains, broken bones, and concussions, among many other conditions, thus making you miss work and lose money. 

Preventing slipping accidents and falls at work caused by snow and ice

As an employer, there are simple measures and precautions you can take against ice and snow, and it's your job to ensure the safety and welfare regulations are met for those you employ. Gritting, salting, and shovelling affected areas is an expected step to protect staff and can be done easily. 

This also extends to the interior of your workplace, as bringing snow and ice inside will melt on the floor and turn into a slip hazard. 

It's important to regularly mop and then clearly display a wet floor sign to combat this. Ensuring the inside of your workspace is at a minimum temperature of 16°C is also important, as your employees should have a decent working temperature.

Preventing slipping accidents

If managing an outdoor environment, the rules stay the same, although there are different factors to consider. You have a wider area to manage, so there's an increased risk. Be sure to monitor employee whereabouts to ensure they're staying safe. This will only put everyone's mind to ease also. 

Encourage your workers to wear the appropriate footwear depending on the job, or simply provide them yourself. If an employee is working alone, and there's no way of changing that, then a lone worker device is an option for employers.

It can take the form of a very discreet tool that aids in communicating with workers who are alone and ensuring that they have a way of contacting you or the emergency services if needed. This works both ways, and the employer can also send help directly to the wearer of the device. 


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