Ten ways to keep workers safe this winter

As the seasons change, so do the risks faced by workers. CHAS, partner members of the Scaffolding Association, provide tips on how to keep focused on health and safety during the winter months. 

As winter approaches, outdoor workers have to negotiate poor light, exposure to cold and slippery surfaces which can lead to injury or worse. 

Workers are more likely to behave unsafely as their ability to perform manual tasks deteriorates in the cold.(1)

Shorter daylight hours can also affect the ability to see and be seen.

Every year there are over 2,500 RIDDOR incidents involving transport in the workplace and being struck by a vehicle is one of the most common causes of fatal workplace accidents.(2) 

Apart from causing dangerous driving conditions, rain, ice and snow can increase the risk of slips and trips, the most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces.(3)

Here, CHAS sets out ten ways to help prevent accidents through winter:

1/ Carry out daily safety meetings to keep health and safety in workers’ minds. 

They should cover changes in weather, temperature, shorter days and low light. Make sure workers know that if at any time they feel unsafe they can stop, report and seek advice.

2/ Review your safety clothing. 

Thermal comfort is key to productivity and maintaining a consistent body temperature is vital. Manual work produces sweat, which contributes to rapid cooling of body temperature, so it’s important that protective clothing includes a breathable base layer to wick away moisture as well as an insulating mid-layer and waterproof outer layer.

Footwear should provide grip, warmth, and waterproofness. Winter helmet liners or beanies should be compatible with hard hats and workers should wear gloves and extra thick socks when working in cold temperatures.

3/ Issue photo-luminescent hard hat stickers. 

A study published by The Institute for Work & Health in January 2013 showed that the rate of work injury goes up between 5pm and 5am, when light is poor, exacerbated by shorter daylight hours in the winter.

When passing through areas of ambient lighting, the luminescent material will absorb energy and then glow as the wearer enters darker areas.

4/ Equip workers with comfortable and EN ISO 20471-compliant high-visibility clothing. 

Hi-vis clothing helps drivers of approaching vehicles see the wearer reducing the risk of injury. Wear more unusual colours to contrast and combat ‘hi-vis fatigue’.

5/ Encourage staff to take regular breaks. 

Working in cold temperatures can lead to a lowering of the body temperature, which can cause impaired concentration and tiredness, increasing the risk of accidents. Be sure to provide sheltered environments and hot drinks for breaks. Drying rooms should also be provided for wet clothing.

6/ Put up clear signage throughout the workplace to warn of danger.

Slips and falls can occur more frequently in winter due to wet conditions. According to the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations, 1996, employers must use safety signs where significant risk to health and safety continues after all other relevant precautions have been taken.

7/ Introduce warm-up exercises. 

Encouraging workers to take part in 10 minutes of stretching at the start of their working day can help warm up cold muscles decreasing the likelihood of soft tissue injuries.

8/ Vehicles are common causes of accidents, particularly in low light.

Look to implement a reverse park requirement for all car parks and ensure workers are qualified in the jobs they are doing. Consider supplementing on-site learning with an online safety course.

9/ Encourage healthy eating. 

A diet high in sugar and stimulants such as caffeine can cause blood-sugar crashes, affecting concentration, alertness, information-processing and our ability to sleep. The knock-on effect of fatigue can be a threat to workplace safety, as well as health.

10/ Be aware of mental health symptoms. 

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is sometimes known as “winter depression” because the symptoms are usually more apparent during the winter. Consider providing access to free online resources such as the Mental Health First-Aid England courses.

References:

(1) www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/thermal/index.htm

(2) www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/tables/ridfatal.xlsx

(3) www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causinj/index.htm

(4) www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/pdf/fatalinjuries.pdf

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