Winter is coming, and employers need to watch out for the risks that the cold season with its shorter days brings to construction and utility personnel working and travelling outdoors.
Vocational learning specialist Develop Training Ltd (DTL) points out employers have a duty of care to protect their employees, even in the absence of a legal minimum working temperature limit. Failing to do so, if it results in injury, could lead to prosecution. Managers should also realise that employees suffering from cold will be less able to do their jobs and may be more likely to make a hazardous error, DTL says.
The scale of the risks can range from reduced dexterity with cold fingers to loss of limbs due to frostbite or even death from hypothermia.
The first step to prevention if you are an employer or manager is to carry out a risk assessment to ensure you are not putting people in danger. This should take into account factors such as air temperature, wind chill, clothing, protective equipment such as gloves, rest breaks, respite areas such as heated on-site cabins, and the availability of food and hot drinks.
The risks posed by the cold are exacerbated by wind chill and wet weather while shorter, cloudier days often mean reduced visibility, which can be a safety risk in operational areas as well as on the road.
If suitable steps are taken to plug any gaps following the assessment, this should avoid any serious problems, but it’s still important that employees and supervisors know what do if they or any of their workmates start to show symptoms of a cold-related condition.
The HSE’s relevant recommendations for modifying the work environment include erecting barriers that shield or insulate the work area and redesigning jobs to remove the employee from the area or restricting the length of time he or she is exposed to cold conditions. You can also look at reducing the amount of work and the rate at which it is expected to be completed for the same reason. Introducing mechanical aids may be an option to help employees who are wearing a lot of clothing. If employees are required to wear uniform, it should be evaluated for thermal comfort.
When it comes to monitoring employees, they should be properly supervised and receive appropriate training. You may need to consult an occupational health professional for employees who are pregnant, have an illness or disability, or are on medication
On the move
With winter comes more wet weather, employees on the move should be properly trained to ensure they drive safely in adverse conditions. Driving in the wet can be deceptively dangerous. Useful tips include:
Decrease your speed and keep your distance from the vehicle in front
Keep your windscreen clean to combat reduced visibility
Know how to deal with aquaplaning – ease off the accelerator
Beware of flooding but if you must drive through, stay in first gear
In foggy conditions, give your driving 100 per cent attention