October 26, 2015

Preparing for Winter Weather – a Health & Safety warning

You can’t avoid the news reports of a predicted winter freeze this year.

UK reports have warned us to prepare for a record cold winter with savage Arctic gales and heavy snowstorms even worse than the bitter winter of 2009/10.

When a severe weather event occurs what can businesses do to minimise the disruption to the business and risks to the safety of their employees?

In Health & Safety Management, we tend to concentrate on machinery; personal protective equipment or general processes such as policy, risk assessment, auditing, etc.

However, Health and safety issues come in other forms, such as the forces of nature.

We often view the seasons as characterised by extreme weather conditions causing massive disruptions to normal operations or services.

Businesses should plan to minimise the impact of these conditions.  In winter we can reasonably expect extreme weather conditions such as snow, ice, excessive rainfall, low temperatures and reduced hours of daylight. These conditions will impact on external activities but may also impact on operations within your organisation.

What precautions should employers take in extreme weather conditions?

Firstly, it is advisable for all businesses to conduct risk assessments of their workplaces to deal with the issues caused by extreme weather conditions.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 sets out the requirements in relation to the temperature of workplaces.  The Approved Code of Practice which accompanies the Regulations suggests that the temperature in workplaces should be at least 16 degrees Celsius, unless much of the work involves severe physical effort in which case the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius.

There is no maximum temperature specified in the Approved Code of Practice.  However, employers must follow the requirements of the Regulations that “the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”.

Arrangements must be in place to minimize the risk from snow and ice on both pedestrian and vehicle traffic routes.

As an employer, you have a duty of care to maintain safe access for employees and visitors.

Slips & Trips

Slips and trips account for the majority of accidents in the workplace and such accidents increase in wet or icy conditions.

Injuries

Any injuries need reporting under under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR). It is possible that any injury or accident could result in a visit from either your Local Environmental Health Officer or an inspector from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). You can minimise the risk of an accident or injury happening in many ways:

Advance assessment of premises

It is important that site/sites are surveyed in advance of any bad weather to manage and identify which areas need to be cleared or gritted.

Resource the task appropriately

Clearing and gritting car parks and paths in icy weather will be time-consuming so employers should allocate adequate resources to safely carry out this task.

Grit according to conditions

Keep an eye on weather conditions to actively manage how much material you spread.

Check the insurance status of any contractors

As with all outsourcing, companies should check the insurance status of their service provider.

Document your work

There is always a risk of an accident so you need to demonstrate that action has been taken within your business to prevent injury to employees and visitors.

Review

As winter progresses, you should continually be reviewing your procedures and ensuring they are fully effective in reducing the risk to the lowest possible level that is reasonably practicable. Any findings as a result of this must be documented for the following winter.

If you need further advice, check out our employer resources section or contact us.

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About the author

Eamon Griffin