Managing Seasonal Health and Safety Risks

It's that time of year again when the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping.

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  • Happy snowman in a snowy field.

Not only can low temperatures, minimal sunlight and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) associated with this time of year put a serious dampener on workforce morale, they can also prove to be a serious threat to staff safety and wellbeing.

Employers can make the mistake of discouraging staff in taking days off sick. Therefore forcing some employees who are ill to come to work regardless and not allowing them to rest and recuperate sufficiently. By doing this they are then putting other staff at risk of infection.

If staff know they are ill and suffering from a fever, they should stay at home until at least 24 hours after the fever has gone. Limiting the risk of contagion and also ensuring the unwell person is fully recovered before returning to work.

One important factor to consider in trying to minimise illness in the workplace is heating. A cold office or work room can not only be a health hazard but can also damage employee morale. The guidance under the Workplace (health, safety and welfare) regulations is to keep a minimum temperature of 16 degrees Celsius, whilst regularly consulting staff as to the preferred comfortable working temperature.

If the work involved is physical this is reduced to 13 degrees Celsius. Similarly, it is important to ensure that the working environment is not too warm. A stuffy working environment with little ventilation can be uncomfortable, can lower productivity and is a potential breeding ground for germs.

It is important to ensure internal and external lighting is suitable and sufficient as the days draw in. In addition ensure that external foot paths, roads and car parks are managed to ensure that a ‘build– up’ of leaves, surface water and ice are dealt with appropriately to reduce potential trip and slip accidents.

Employees who work outside in the open air experience higher risks of physical safety, particularly during harsh or unpredictable weather conditions. It is vital that adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is provided suitable for the individual and the working environment in which it is used. In biting cold weather an employer may be quick to assume that thick gloves are imperative for their staff, however many outdoor jobs require manual dexterity for the operation of equipment.

Waterproof clothing, should be suitable for the weather conditions and be of a good quality to ensure the comfort of staff. If Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not comfortable, staff will not wear it putting themselves at risk.

It is important to ensure that as an employer you provide a suitable rest area out of the harsh weather conditions where staff can take regular, short breaks and can get themselves a hot drink.