With temperatures dropping and the days getting shorter, winter is just around the corner. That brings with it an added duty of care for employers when it comes to ensuring staff are kept safe. Of course, this will depend partly on what kind of business you’re in. For example, your employees may or may not spend time outside in the course of their duties.
But whether it’s coming to work in the dark on icy roads, the increased likelihood of getting ill, or letting people home early to avoid forecast snow, there will be plenty for all employers to think about. To help businesses in their provision of a duty of care, here’s our advice on the topics areas to address before winter sets in:
Snow and ice: You can’t stop the weather, but you can make sure any car parks you have are safe by gritting them, or, if that’s not possible, putting up warning signs or spreading salt to create safe paths.
Drivers: If people drive as part of their job for you, keep an eye out for weather warnings on the roads. The Environment Agency has an up-to-date flood warnings page you and your employees can keep an eye on at http://apps.environment-agency.gov.uk/flood/31618.aspx. Your drivers may need to go through flooded routes so if they can’t, keep them updated on the safe routes to follow.
Machinery: Frost can affect outside machinery. If possible, consider bringing smaller equipment inside to keep it from the frost. If not, be aware of what could happen and ensure you conduct regular safety checks.
Shorter shifts: Your staff may need shorter outside shifts to avoid getting too cold to work – and don’t forget that there is a minimum inside working temperature that you’re obliged to ensure as an employer.
Illness: Colds and flu are more common at this time of year. Consider how to manage the issue and deliver positive messages to staff that let people know they can take time off if they’re too poorly to come in. Balance this with the fact others will then have to take on their workload and consider offering preventative measures like subsidised flu jabs for those that would like them.
Floods: Ensure staff know basic safety when extreme weather hits. Do they know not to stand under a tree in a lightning storm, or how to judge when the weather gets bad enough they should stop working?
Clothing: If the business doesn’t provide suitable cold-weather workwear, it should consider doing so or ensuring employees are properly dressed for the cold.
Mental health: Lots of people suffer with winter blues, and employers should be mindful of this. Think about raising awareness of the difference between winter blues and diagnosed SAD syndrome, depression and anxiety.
Plan for the worst: Be aware you may need contingency plans for emergencies, such as a flu epidemic or people not being able to get to and from work. Establish your basic safe operational workforce which will mean you can still run as a business.
Risk assess: With all of the above, always risk assess the options to make sure you protect employees and your business.
After all that, you can let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!