In this edition of the Blog, with it being December, I thought it might be a good idea to look at the issues around working outside in the cold. It’s been a warm year but it’s certainly getting colder outside now that Christmas is just around the corner. It is important that your staff are protected from the extremes of the cold so let’s have a look at some of the issues facing those who work outdoors.
Whilst there is a legal minimum temperature for indoor workers (it’s 16°C, or 13°C for strenuous work), there isn’t actually a minimum for people working outdoors. However, this doesn’t mean that people who work outside such as builders, caretakers, roofers, gardeners etc are totally unprotected from the extremes of the UK climate. Let’s face it when it’s cold and windy it is pretty uncomfortable outside in the UK! Under Health and Safety regulations, employers owe their staff a ‘duty of care’. This means that they are responsible for ensuring that people aren’t asked to work in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Continuing to work in extreme cold could well constitute a breach of this duty of care, particularly if people asked to work outdoors have existing health conditions such as heart complaints for example.
Extra risk assessments should be carried out during extreme weather. Consider all the risks such as workers’ existing health conditions, whether there is a need for health monitoring, risks from falling on ice, handling heavy loads in cold conditions and concentration lapses due to poor weather. Make sure workers’ health and safety are not put at risk. Consider all the possible likely hazards when assessing risks from winter weather. Don’t just focus on the outside air temperature, but also on the wind chill factor, ice, snow, rain, fog and poor light. Strong winds, for example, can make it feel bitterly cold in the open air in the UK and can really cause hazardous situations to arise. The presence of strong winds could cause severe accidents for anyone working at height and so these would then need to be explored through your risk assessment.
Once the risk assessment has been carried out the employer must ensure appropriate controls are in place and appropriate protective equipment is issued. Where necessary, warm and dry mobile facilities, and regular warm fluids like soup and hot chocolate for warming up could be made available. Controls include providing warm clothes, suitable footwear and appropriate tools. It also includes setting limits for when work in poor weather should stop. Apply common sense to the progress and don’t expect people to be at risk such as erecting scaffold during a snow storm or walking on icy roofs. Should people be hurt due to negligence on the side of the employer be prepared for prosecution by the HSE. The best way to avoid this is to risk assess and manage the hazards to the lowest levels possible to keep people safe.
During cold and poor weather rest breaks should be more frequent and long enough to allow proper re-warming. When it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE) remember that feet and toes are particularly susceptible to cold injury, and that 40% of heat is lost through the head. Appropriate protection of the hands is also important not only to prevent injury, but also to maintain dexterity and prevent accidents.
If you’re concerned about the temperature you’re working at, or asking your staff to work at, please do not hesitate to contact JCH Safety to assist with your issues.
Enjoy the festive season.