Neil Howe, senior legal author with online safety specialists Cedrec, says that while no-one can predict exactly what the weather's going to be like over this winter, it is at least possible for companies to be ready when things take a turn for the worse.
After all, employers must remember that they have a duty of care concerning the health and safety of their employees.
The key to success is to adopt a common sense approach, striking a balance between asking employees to make all reasonable efforts to be mindful at work while not encouraging them to take any undue risks with their safety in mind.
Employers are responsible for making sure the workplace is safe so far as is reasonably practicable and should consider instigating an adverse weather policy ahead of the traditionally colder, bitter and icy months of deep winter.
It's important that this policy, which sets out an organisation's position and how it will handle issues surrounding bad weather, is communicated and properly explained to all staff.
Neil Howe said:
"Cold weather and shorter daylight hours mean there is more potential for accidents to happen, particularly for those working outdoors where the winter months add to the challenge of staying safe.
"Sectors like construction are perhaps more susceptible; so they should have robust procedures in place to make sure workers, and especially lone workers, are kept safe and secure.
"Companies have a responsibility to provide adequate welfare and protection in winter and need to consider lighting, rain water, ice, frost, snow and gritting among other factors.
"Prepare for what will happen, and what you can do to prevent the risks. It's much easier and safer to put down grit the night before, rather than in the morning when there's a covering of snow and ice."
An initial risk assessment will identify potential hazards - areas such as building entrances, car parks, walkways, and areas that are sloping or in the shade or wet - and the effective precautions that can be taken to improve the management of these risks. (If an employee brings a personal injury claim against their employer as a result of a slip or trip on snow or ice at work, the court will consider the circumstances in which the incident occurred and the steps the employer took to avoid the risk of injury).
Make sure there's enough lighting in and around the workplace so that employees can see and avoid hazards that might be on the ground and clear away wet or decaying leaves which might cause people to slip on paths.
PPE is even more crucial during winter, especially when using things like power tools outside. Gloves, hats and waterproofs are all simple things that could be provided and even heat pads if they were available. Drying rooms for wet clothes and hot water for washing becomes more important than usual.
It's also a myth that there's a minimum workplace temperature that should be met. Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 refers to the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings being reasonable during working hours.
Whether a temperature is reasonable or not will depend on factors like the nature of the workplace (for example, is it fully enclosed or are exterior doorways open all the time for work purposes; is it a refrigerated environment, and so on), and the type of work being carried out.
Industry guidance recommends a minimum temperature of 16C for workplaces where the nature of the work is fairly inactive/deskbound, such as offices, while for locations where the majority of the work requires physical effort, the minimum recommended temperature is 13°C.
"Following such simple procedures will help to reduce risks," says Neil Howe. "But it's important for employers to stay abreast of the latest health and safety legislation, which together with adopting a common sense approach, will go a long way to keeping employees safe and secure this winter."
Cedrec specialises in providing public and private sector organisations with help and advice in understanding, interpreting and complying with environmental and safety legislation. The company offers a range of specialist consultancy and subscriptions services.
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