Take Care at Work this Winter
Winter conditions can lead to many increased work-related risks, such as slips, trips and falls, so it’s paramount to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of other site staff and members of the public over this period. Regardless of the size of your site, you should always ensure that regularly used walkways are promptly tackled.
Adverse weather can create health and safety issues, not just whilst at work. Getting to and from work can also put staff at risk.
According to the HSE, the following safety issues should be addressed during the winter months:
- Wet and decaying leaves
- Ice, frost and snow
As daylight hours become shorter, you should ensure your site is well lit so any potential hazards can be seen and avoided. This may mean bringing in additional lighting.
Fallen leaves are likely hazards and should be regularly removed. Decaying leaves can cause serious slips and trips. Excess rainwater also causes problems, as pathways can become slippery. Many slip accidents happen at building entrances as rainwater is also easily walked into buildings. And to reduce the risk of slips on ice, a risk assessment should be carried out and control measures put in place, such as covering or gritting frozen areas.
But it’s not just potential accidents you need to be aware of when working on a building site during the winter months: falling temperatures can affect your workers’ health and general wellbeing too.
Here are some tips to help you and your team to stay safe in winter conditions:
Educate employees of cold-related stress symptoms, for example, severe fatigue, drowsiness, uncomfortable coldness and heavy shivering. They also need to understand cold-related illnesses like hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. Informing your employees of these conditions goes a long way towards the prevention of such illnesses.
Work in pairs, when working in extreme weather conditions, this will allow you to monitor each other and obtain help quickly in the event of an emergency. Social distancing should still be observed.
Warm-up schedules should be used if required to provide periodic times for warm-up breaks. As the wind velocity increases and/or the temperature drops then additional breaks should be provided. In a cold environment, thirst is suppressed and dehydration could occur when fluid intake is reduced. Dehydration can weaken our immune systems barriers. Keeping well hydrated during winter ensures that the barriers used to protect your body from colds and flu are fully functional.
Engineering controls can be effective, for example, using heaters in areas where practical, shielding work areas from winds and drafts, and using insulating material on metal handles.
Wearing Suitable Clothes and PPE
This is one of the most important precautions for reducing cold stress. It is best to wear three or more layers of clothes and you should also use layering to protect your feet, hands and head. Remember to always make sure your high vis is the outer layer.
Finally, dark and cloudy winter days with less sunlight than usual means that your brain produces more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you feel lethargic. This can then cause a lack of concentration and judgement. Please be aware that not all health and safety issues can be seen but they can still be fatal.