Preparing for Winter Risks
Cold weather, snow and ice can cause and accentuate many work-related risks which have to be dealt with by organisations. Slipping on icy walkways is an important hazard which can affect both employees and members of the public. Low working temperatures can present particular health and safety problems. Getting to and from work in snowy conditions puts staff at risk. Driving for work in ice and snow is especially dangerous.
As with most safety risks, it is essential to plan ahead and manage the risks associated with cold weather before they occur. Risk assessments should also include hazards related to inclement weather
Business continuity plans should also describe action to take in the event of severe cold, for example details of who will be responsible for clearing pathways/car parks, communications to staff and appropriate action to take in the event of damage to premises.
Low temperatures in the workplace
The Health and Safety (Workplace) Regulations 1992 with its associated code of practice (ACOP) require the temperature inside workplaces to be reasonable. What is a reasonable temperature is dependant on the work activities and circumstances and guidelines are given in the ACOP.
For workrooms where there is no work which involves severe physical effort e.g. an office, then the temperature should not drop below 16°C. There are many situations where this minimum temperature cannot be achieved, for example where food is handled or work outdoors. In these situations, warm clothing, hot drinks, warm rest areas, time limitation in the cold areas and similar measures should be taken.
Portable heating is a short-term solution to changes in weather whereas long-term fixed solutions are preferred. However if portable heaters are to be used then they should be subject to portable appliance testing, visually inspected prior to use and risks from fire considered.
One of the most significant risks associated with wintery weather is the risk of slips due to snow and ice on walkways and paths. Employers have a duty of care not just to their own staff, but also to non-employees such as the public and other visitors. Serious injuries can result from slipping on ice and while prosecutions do occasionally take place following slipping accidents, potentially expensive civil claims are more likely.
Employers therefore need to be prepared for bad weather and take reasonable action to keep paths and walkways free from ice and snow. This is not an exact science and it is sometimes impossible to keep all accesses free from snow and ice, all of the time. The risk assessment should have identified priority walkways and take appropriate action to keep them safe. This will include the use of salt and grit as well as warning signs. Employers need to be able to show that they have properly considered the issue and have spent an appropriate amount of resources commensurate with the risk.
For more on slips and trips see the following article “Mind your feet this winter”.
Driving for work
The requirements of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 include the time when employees are driving, or riding at work, whether this is in a company or hired vehicle, or in the employee’s own vehicle (but not the daily commute).
Wintery weather can cause extreme risks and the effects of snow and ice can make driving very dangerous. Risk assessments performed under the Management Regulations should include driving for work.
The risk assessment may need to include when not to drive at all and in what circumstances this action may have to be taken. Guidance and requirements for maintenance of vehicles are also required, as well as information about safe driving techniques in bad weather from sources such as the Highways Agency, ROSPA, the AA and the RAC.
To manage winter road risk, it is recommended that employers:
- Assess all occupational road risk relevant to the organisation through a risk assessment, considering the three fundamental areas, the:
- Analyse existing control measures to determine if they are adequate for:
- All vehicles used for business purposes
- All business-related journeys
- All company vehicle drivers.
- Implement further control measures as necessary, following the hierarchy of risk control, which may include:
- Eliminating the need for the journey
- Substituting for another form of transport
- Minimising the risk by appropriate control measures.
- Ensure necessary training is provided to employees who use their own vehicles at work
- Monitor and review the occupational road risk strategy to ensure it is successful in reducing the risks.