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EXPECT MORE OF THE UNEXPECTED

Plan ahead to protect your employees from the effects of winter weather

Being caught unawares by sudden cold snaps, plummeting temperatures, storms and snow has almost become an annual tradition in the UK. Although (usually) short-lived, these frequent features of British winter weather present significant risks to your employees and business continuity.

Whilst parts of the UK begin to deal with the aftermath of Storm Angus, reports are already predicting more rain and a long-standing period of low to freezing temperatures. So we take a look at how planning for the effects of further winter weather can help keep your employees safe, happy and healthy, throughout winter, and protect your business continuity.

1. THE BIG CHILL

People in the UK are, generally, not used to sudden drops in temperature and may struggle to cope in cold conditions. This is particularly relevant to outdoor workers, whose physical health, dexterity and productivity can be impaired by cold weather.

Invest in high quality, weatherproof workwear and PPE to keep your teams safe, happy and healthy. Clothing needs to be suitable for the job, the level of activity and the temperature or other weather conditions.

It also needs to be compatible with any other personal protective equipment (PPE).

Tips for cold weather clothing include:

  • Wear several layers — this will trap an insulating layer of air, and workers can add or take off layers as conditions change.
  • In cases of extreme weather, you could also supply extra layers of protection, such as thermal undergarments.
  • Choose wool or synthetics such as polypropylene for wearing next to the skin so that sweat is “wicked” away.
    Provide suitable footwear — and/or additional ice grips that fit onto shoes or boots — to reduce the risk of slipping.
  • Use waterproofs in wet weather and wind resistant fabrics to protect against wind chill — have a change of dry clothes available.
  • Choose hoods, hats or balaclavas that work with other safety headgear and don’t compromise hearing protection.

If cold weather makes indoor environments uncomfortable, consider using portable electric heaters to raise temperatures. Whilst there is no minimum legal indoor temperature, the HSE’s Approved Code of Practice suggests that workplace temperatures should normally be at least 16°C.

2. IN THE DRIVING SEAT

Snow and ice cause additional driving hazards and present substantial risk for work-related driving.

If you don’t already have one, put in place a winter driving policy for staff who use cars for work purposes, part of which should focus on preparing vehicles for winter.

Conduct suitable risk assessments and implement “reasonably practicable” measures to ensure that journeys are safe, and staff are fit and competent to drive safely. There is plenty of advice on planning and managing winter driving, as well as tips for safe driving, available from organisations such as Brake, RoSPA, the AA, RAC and the Highways Agency.

Ensure company vehicles are regularly checked, well maintained are fit for purpose. It’s also a good idea to issue a vehicle checklist to encourage staff who drive to work to check their own vehicle for maintenance issues.

And why provide drivers with winter kits for vans and cars? These can include blankets, snow shovels, protective shoes (or ice grips), grit and hi-vis jackets. As well as being a nice gesture to show you care, these can help reduce the severity of winter road incidents should they occur.

3. SKATING ON THIN ICE

Wet and frozen floors are a common occurrence and workplace hazard during winter.

In addition to the obvious signposting and drying wet floors, invest in properly gripping footwear for all employees, and place absorbent doormats at all entry points to your building.

4. SEASONAL SICKNESS

Most businesses experience higher absenteeism rates throughout winter, often caused by the spread of winter bugs. A relatively inexpensive solution is to offer employees flu vaccinations to reduce winter sickness. Also, consider making antibacterial soap and hand gel available in the workplace, and encourage employees to regularly clean phones and computer keyboards using disinfectant wipes.

ZenOffice supplies a wide range of winter PPE and health & safety solutions. Get in touch with your account manager to discuss your requirements and find out how we can help.