It’s as cold as a snowman’s nose out there. It makes one want to hibernate, preferably in a warm room with a hot drink. And when we have to venture outside, we have slippery ice, biting cold, frozen cars, treacherous roads and all manner of other inconveniences to contend with.
Furthermore, a big extreme weather issue at the moment is whether to clear snow or not. We talk about this in some detail later in this post.
So, here are our four short and sensible winter weather safety tips for staying safe in and around the workplace this winter.
Roads and driving
The first of our winter weather safety tips concern vehicles and driving. We need to adapt the way we drive. Snow, ice and fog change the way we drive, journeys take longer and roads are more hazardous.
We would recommend that you perform vehicles checks on all company vehicles and encourage your employees to do so too if commuting by car. The RoSPA website has a useful factsheet covering winter driving tips and a video that advises on how to perform vehicle checks.
If you have employees who must drive for work, it would be useful to review your risk assessments for extreme weather driving and your emergency procedures for those on the road, particularly lone workers. Here’s a useful guide to journey planning from RoSPA.
Working in the cold
If you have employees who work outdoors and have to deal with winter weather, you should already have factored this into your safety procedures. You should have carried out risk assessments that identify the hazards associated with work in cold temperatures. You should check that the controls you have put in place are adequate. The HSE website has some useful resources on assorted British Standards related to cold stress.
Ice and Snow
Probably the biggest of our winter weather safety tips. After all, the ice and the snow and the bitter freezing temperatures are what cause the majority of winter issues, along with the long hours of darkness.
As you may expect, slips and trips are a major risk when pavements, roads and walkways are blanketed in snow and hidden ice. To avoid slips and trips:
• Have employees wear appropriate footwear.
• Allow extra time for journeys.
• Clearing snow – please see box below. There has been some controversy over this issue.
• Ensure vulnerable persons (elderly, expectant mothers, disabled and young people) are considered. You may want to review your risk assessments if there are vulnerable persons using your premises.
To clear snow or not to clear snow
There have been instances where businesses have been sued for clearing snow. The argument goes that by clearing snow, you are making the pavement more hazardous and therefore causing injury rather than preventing it.
This leads to a Catch 22 because by not clearing away the snow, it could be argued that you are not complying with your duty to provide a safe environment for those who use it. And therefore potentially be sued.
Here’s what Adrian Lee, director of ADL Associates and chartered safety consultant, has to say about this twisty little matter:
“Snow is an act of god and generally outside the scope of the HASAWA 1974. Clearing or not you need to remember some important points!
First – don’t make things worse. Piled snow can become a trip hazard or obstruction. Throwing boiling water on snow can create an ice rink when it freezes. Avoid these things!
Second – not clearing snow from emergency exits (thus making them unavailable) is counter to good H&S practice and could lead to prosecution or claims of negligence.
Sensible strategies for clearing snow, such as just salting/gritting walkways are to be used. Helping people stay safe without making it worse will meet your duty of care and help you avoid those charges of negligence!”
General workplace winter weather safety tips
Here are a few things to consider:
• Policy for adverse weather
• Procedures and arrangements (for example, emergency procedures may be affected)
• Risk assessments and appropriate controls (extra control may need to be put in place, for example PPE – cold resistant gloves, suitable footwear or thermal workwear)
• Facilities maintenance
• Indoor temperatures do not fall below the minimum requirement of 16°c (sedentary work) or 13°c (rigorous physical work).