9th January, 2020

You're As Cold As Ice, Don't Be Willing To Sacrifice (Your Health And Safety)

With temperatures often hitting the minuses at this time of year (yes, more freezing than freezing), it's important to remember from slips and trips to shivering in the cold, extra consideration should be given to health and safety.

You're As Cold As Ice, Don't Be Willing To Sacrifice (Your Health And Safety) header image

With temperatures often hitting the minuses at this time of year (yes, more freezing than freezing), it's important to remember that when you're as cold as ice, extra consideration should be given to health and safety.

It's hard enough going out in the cold to defrost the car in the morning, but with a large proportion of people undertaking some or all of their working day outdoors, it is important to remember the increased risks from the decreased temperature.

From slips and trips to shivering in the cold, being outside in the winter weather can be bad for your health, and your safety.

Ice, ice, maybe?

Freezing temperatures mixed with wet weather creates ice on the ground. The icy weather that we get in winter not only means it is cold but also slippy. We have all seen or experienced slips on the ice, and ice can be a big risk in outdoor working environments like construction sites.

It is important to consider the increased risk that icy surfaces can bring, and put in place the appropriate control measures needed. This is especially necessary for exposed outdoor areas of your work environment, like entrances, steps, walkways, car parks and paths.

Gritting, clearing and salting walkways regularly when the temperature drops should be an important part of winter site management. Covers, arbours and insulating materials can also be used on walkways to preventing icy surfaces from forming. You should keep people away from icy surfaces and divert them if needed, especially sloped areas.

Remember, it is not just people that can slip on icy surfaces, vehicle routes also need assessing.

Snow is falling, all around me?

You might be dreaming of a white Christmas, but snow is another hazard that needs your attention in the workplace. Like ice, snow on surfaces can create a slip hazard, and also hide other issues. For example, snow may cover uneven ground and make it harder to avoid hazards because you don't know that they are there.

snow footprint
Snow is another hazard that needs your attention

And if it's not snowing there are other hazards to watch out for too. Wet leaves on the ground, rain, and muddy conditions all introduce slip hazards that need to be prevented and managed.

Temporary roofs, scaffold sheeting and other temporary shields can be used to protect your site and working platforms from the elements, and help you comply with the legal requirement to provide a safe place of work.

You're as cold as ice?

It's not just safety risks to think about in the cold, but also the health of outdoor workers. Wrap up warm! Clothing and PPE must be suitable for protection against the cold particularly in cold windy, icy or snowy conditions.

Welfare and rest facilities need to provide a warm place of rest to allow the team to get a break from the cold. Frequent breaks should be encouraged to give workers regular opportunities to warm through.

Snow and rain during work hours can wet through clothing and make the effects of the cold worse for those working. Wet and cold clothes make it harder for the body to stay at a healthy temperature, which at best is uncomfortable, and at worse can lead to serious and sometimes fatal conditions like hypothermia.

Check out our 7 tips for surviving winter work!

And make sure workers have suitable protective clothing, and a place to get dry and change out of wet clothing. You should regularly change gloves, socks and other clothing if it has become wet.

Warm drinks and snacks should be available, particularly warm liquids such as soups, teas, coffees and hot chocolates.

ice on a fence
Take breaks from the cold

The cold never bothered me anyway?

If workers show signs of shivering and loss of coordination, not only does this in itself increase the risk of accidents but also shows they are being affected by the cold.

Is it legal? Find out in working in cold temperatures and the law.

When you get cold, your more likely to take shortcuts to try and get the job done quickly so you can get out of the cold. You might also struggle to grip things and lose concentration.

Raise awareness of the symptoms of cold stress and the early signs of hypothermia. Shivering may lead to tiredness and confusion. Slurred speech, memory loss and cold pale or blue skin are all indicators that quick action is needed.

In cold weather, always plan ahead. Paths and walkways should be gritted before ice can form, and salt takes time to work. Any temporary protection measures you decide to use should also be installed before problems occur. Make sure that changes of clothes and protective items are available and warm break and changing facilities provided for outdoor workers.

For a quick refresher download our free toolbox talk for cold environments and the winter working toolbox talk. Don't forget to do a risk assessment for outdoor work.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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