Working outside in Winter

As temperatures drop to minus figures, employers have a duty of care to protect their employees against the effects of winter conditions and provide reasonable comfort to them. As an organisation, you may have staff members who are required to work outside as part of their duties, and as their employer it is your responsibility to manage their health & safety in these cold conditions.

Prevent Slips and Trips at Work
In the winter months more accidents are reported to the HSE involving a slip, trip or fall. There are a number of factors that can contribute to these accidents including limited lighting, muddy and icy footpaths.

To protect your employees and others working on or visiting your premises from a slip or a trip ensure that you use an effective grit salt when ice, snow or heavy frost has been forecast. It does not work straight away however so paths and walkways may need to be gritted either the night before or early in the morning before staff arrive which gives the salt a chance to dissolve the icy patches.

Alternatively, you can eliminate the need for pedestrians to walk over certain areas by cordoning it off with cones or barriers.

Provide the Right Personal Protective Equipment
To help protect employees from the effects of cold weather and reduce the likelihood of an accident occurring ensure that they are provided with the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including but not limited to; Gloves, thermals, hats, coats, safety footwear, high visibility vests/ jackets.

If your employees wear hard hats ensure that if they are going to wear anything underneath it that it does not affect the integrity of the hard hat fitting snug to the head. It is worth speaking with your supplier to identify which headgear can be worn under the hard hat so that it can still be adjusted ensuring it will not easily fall off.

It is not advised that employees wear hoods under their hard hat because this reduces visibility and movement leading to an increased risk of an accident occurring.

Employees working outside should be provided with facilities to allow them to warm up, this should include the provision of making hot drinks and having somewhere to rest as well as increased rest breaks.

Employees who are exposed to low temperatures can lose more heat than can be generated if they are not moving much, which can cause them to suffer hypothermia and lead to the brain not performing correctly resulting in an increased likelihood of an accident occurring.

Wind chill can have a detrimental effect on employees causing an even greater heat loss. Ensure that employees are wearing the correct clothing to protect against the impact of wind chill and they are made of suitable material to keep them dry. Ideally the work wear supplied should be made up of different thermal and lining layers that can be easily removed and added when the weather and temperature changes.

As an organisation, it is important to assess your employee’s duties and determine the most appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, but remember, PPE is one of the last resort in your risk mitigation hierarchy.  Starting with does your employee need to be in the cold conditions at all?