Winter Safety: trips and slips
According to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) the most common cause of winter work accidents is trips and slips, accounting for 38% of major injuries at work – with over a quarter of injuries requiring three or more days off work.
What the law says
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees at work.
A number of different health and safety regulations impose more specific duties, including:
- Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations requires that the temperature of all indoor workplaces is ‘reasonable’ during work hours.
The relevant ACoP goes on to explain that, subject to practicability, the temperature ‘should provide reasonable comfort without the need for special clothing’ and that the minimum temperature should be 16°C or, if much of the work is physical, 13°C.
- Regulation 11 provides that all outdoor workstations should, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide protection from adverse weather conditions.
Simon Toseland, Head of Health and Safety at Workplace Law, advises that employers reduce the risk of slips on ice, frost or snow by carrying out a risk assessment and putting in a system to manage that risk.
“An organisation should first identify the outdoor areas used by pedestrians most likely to be affected by ice, for example building entrances, car parks, pedestrian walkways, shortcuts, sloped areas and areas constantly in the shade or wet.”
There are a number of strategies suggested by the HSE for minimising the risks:
- Using grit or similar, on areas prone to be slippery in frosty, icy conditions;
- Consider covering walkways e.g. by an arbour high enough for people to walk through, or use an insulating material on smaller areas overnight; and
- Install signage to divert pedestrians to less slippery walkways and barrier off existing ones.
Is there enough 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:
Wet or decaying fallen leaves can create slip risks in two ways; they hide any hazard that may be on the path and in themselves create a slip risk. Either remove leaves at regular intervals or consider removing the offending bushes or trees altogether.
When fitting external paved areas ensure that the material used will be slip resistant when wet and use signage to warn people of areas that become slippery when wet.
Where it isn’t possible to fit a canopy over a building entrance to help keep the ground dry, install large, absorbent mats or change the entrance flooring to one that is non-slip.
Ice, frost and snow:
Keep an eye on the temperature by using a weather service site, for example the Met office website www.metoffice.gov.uk/index.html
Rock salt (plain and treated) is the most commonly used ‘grit’, used on public roads by the Highways Authority. 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. Because salt doesn’t work immediately, needing time to dissolve, gritting is best done early in the evening before the frost settles and/or early in the morning before employees arrive. It’s advisable to pre-order bags of rock salt to ensure you’re ready for a cold snap.
What happens if employees are unable to get into work because of adverse weather conditions?
Advises David Wright of law firm, Kennedys:
“If the excuse for non-attendance is reasonable, and the employment contract allows it, the employer may still withhold pay or, if the employee enjoys more than the 20-day statutory holiday entitlement, require holiday to be taken. However, employers who allow time off with pay in these circumstances will often benefit from improved employee morale, attitude and loyalty”.
“From a safety perspective, employers should be wary of exerting undue pressure on employees to drive to work in dangerous conditions”.