September 29, 2014

Don’t give safety the cold shoulder this winter

Dark days and dark nights are almost upon us as the clocks go back. So – while we have a little daylight left – you may need to review your Health & Safety at work to prepare for the winter period.

Maybe your staff won’t be able to get to work, ro maybe, closed schools will mean parents need to remain at home. You may already have experience of staff members being off due to unforeseen circumstances but when it may be a majority of staff what are your back up plans.

All things being equal it should only be a few occasion over the winter period when business is put at risk But none the less you should have a plan B for these times

So what should we consider?

Slip trips and falls in getting in to the office.

Slip and trip accidents increase during the autumn winter season for a number of reasons:

  • There is less daylight,
  • Leaves fall onto paths and become wet and slippery
  • And cold weather spells cause ice and snow to build up on paths.

There are effective measures we can take to reduce the risk of a slip or trip. Always ensure that regularly used walkway problems are promptly tackled. And preventive measures put in place…

Lighting

Is there is enough working lighting around your workplace for you and your workers to be able to see and avoid hazards that might be on the ground?

Wet and decaying leaves

Fallen leaves that become wet or have started to decay can create slip risks in two ways, they hide any hazard that may be on the path or they themselves create a slip risk.

Discourage people from taking shortcuts over grass or dirt which are likely to become slippery when wet. Consider converting existing shortcuts into proper paths.

Rain water

External paved areas ensure that pooling on the walkway is dealt with promptly.

Many slip accidents happen at building entrances as people entering the building walk in rainwater. Fitting canopies of a good size over building entrances and in the right position can help to prevent this.

If a canopy is not a possibility, consider installing large, absorbent mats or even changing the entrance flooring to one which is non-slip.

Ice, frost and snow

To reduce the risk of slips on ice, frost or snow, you need to assess the risk and put in a system to manage it.

Identify the outdoor areas used by pedestrians most likely to be affected by snow / ice, for example: – building entrances, car parks, pedestrian walkways, shortcuts, sloped areas and areas constantly in the shade or wet.

You need to take action whenever freezing temperatures are forecast.

Put a procedure in place to prevent an icy surface forming and/or keep pedestrians off the slippery surface;

Use grit (see separate article below for more detail) or similar, on areas prone to be slippery in frosty, icy conditions;

Divert pedestrians to less slippery walkways and barrier off existing ones.

If warning cones are used, remember to remove them once the hazard has passed or they will eventually be ignored.

Gritting

The most common method used to de-ice floors is gritting as it is relatively cheap, quick to apply and easy to spread. Rock salt (plain and treated) is the most commonly used ‘grit’. It is the substance used on public roads by the highways authority.

Salt can stop ice forming and cause existing ice or snow to melt. It is most effective when it is ground down, but this will take far longer on pedestrian areas than on roads.

Gritting should be carried out when frost, ice or snow is forecast or when walkways are likely to be damp or wet and the floor temperatures are at, or below freezing.

The best times are early in evening before the frost settles and/or early in the morning before employees arrive. Salt doesn’t work instantly; it needs sufficient time to dissolve into the moisture on the floor.

Be aware that ‘dawn frost’ can occur on dry surfaces, when early morning dews forms and freezes on impact with the cold surface. It can be difficult to predict when or where this condition will occur.

Flu / colds

A lot of us will catch colds or other illnesses during the winter. If you’re feeling so ill consider others

In the office do not spread your cold or flu

Driving might be affected, don’t take the chance of driving.

Flu and cold medicines have different effects on people read the label before taking medicine.

Public transport may not be running for various reasons during the winter period preventing staff attending the office.

Have staff been given emergency contact numbers or have alternative working arrangements been made (working at home) if staff work from home has a suitable risk assessment been carried out.

Employees who drive

Driving conditions in the winter may change quickly so be sure you have some emergency equipment in your car.

Flooded roads or heavy rain can cause a condition called aquaplaning.

When tyres can not expel water and a film of water allows the tyre to float over the road making the steering light and you have no control of the vehicle.

If you find yourself driving in snow or on icy or snow covered roads, adapt your driving to these conditions:

Only travel at a speed at which you can stop within the distance you can see to be clear. Speed limits are the maximum and in ideal conditions; in the above mentioned difficult conditions, they can often be too fast.

Avoid harsh braking and acceleration, or sharp steering.

Always reduce your speed smoothly and in plenty of time on slippery surfaces.

Slow down in plenty of time before bends and corners.

Braking on an icy or snow covered bend is extremely dangerous. The centrifugal force will continue to pull you outwards and the wheels will not grip very well. This could cause your vehicle to spin.

To brake on ice and snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use your brakes gently.

Increase the gap between you and the vehicle in front. You may need up to TEN TIMES the normal distance for braking.

Keep your vehicle well-ventilated. The car heater turned up full can quickly make you drowsy.

In snow, stop frequently to clean the windows, wheel arches, lights and number plates.

Visibility will probably be reduced, so use dipped headlights.

During wintry weather, road surfaces are often wet and/or covered in frost and ice or snow. But this does not occur uniformly. A road will often have isolated patches of frost or ice after most of the road has thawed – this commonly occurs under bridges.

If you get stuck in snow:

If you get stuck in snow, revving your engine to try to power out of the rut will just make the rut worse. Instead, move your vehicle slowly backwards and forwards out of the rut using the highest gear you can.

If this doesn’t work, you may have to ask a friendly passer-by for a push or get your shovel out.

If you get caught in a snow drift:

Call your breakdown service or the emergency services and let help come to you.

Don’t run the engine to keep warm if you find your self stranded in the vehicle until you have check the exhaust pipe is clear as build up of snow can cause poisonous fumes.

Keep the engine running every hour or so to keep warmth in the car get out periodically to ensure you are not buried in the car keep wipers running to see how outside conditions are going.

Do not drive the vehicle with the fog light on unless visibility is low as it can blind other road users.

These are only a few of many additional hazards associated with the on set of winter.

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About the author

Stacey Rowe