We all have to adjust a bit in the winter months. The weather is one thing, but the change in mood is also palpable, with darkness falling before many people have left work. As well as being generally unpleasant outside, winter brings with it a raft of new considerations around safety – particularly if you have a legal responsibility to keep people safe on your site.
Some of this responsibility relates to the way you maintain your site, and the facilities you provide to help people access it safely. Others however relate to people’s behaviour, and gaps in knowledge which might be filled by training. Here are just five ideas on how to keep your workplace safe in the winter, and ensure that everyone makes it into work in one piece.
Lighting the way
Darkness is the most obvious and pervasive risk in the winter months, affecting your journeys to and from work. Not being able to see where you’re walking can be a danger in and of itself, but is amplified by other common risks in the winter, such as slip and trip hazards. Ensuring that the area outside of your facility is well-lit should be the first step to keeping people safe around the workplace.
A visual inspection should usually be enough to establish where lighting needs to be improved, but it may also be worth asking your employees about the routes they take, or even taking those routes with them. Overhead lighting is always preferable as ground lights are more susceptible to damage and being covered up, although this may not always be possible.
Lighting may also be a personal safety issue, with better lighting helping people to feel safer as they walk home or to their vehicle. Lighting inside the workplace can also be a factor in keeping people happy during the winter months, and ensuring they stay active and motivated. Soft or inadequate lighting can make people feel sleepy, and can also exacerbate seasonal affective disorder (SAD), where people experience depression due to the winter weather.
Whether it’s rain, wind, sleet, snow, hail or ice, winter weather brings a whole host of hazards. Seemingly benign pathways can quickly become impassable due to the weather, posing a major threat to people around your facility. While some problems are relatively easy to address, others are more challenging, and all of them require some preparation and organisation on your part.
Anti-slip markings may be appropriate for high-traffic thoroughfares, although this is not necessarily economical. More pertinent is simply maintaining your pathways properly, and ensuring that you keep across the weather for the week ahead. If the forecast predicts temperatures that will cause ice to form, then you should always grit pathways as a precaution.
You should also be extremely proactive about cleaning leaves from paths, as these can be at least as dangerous as ice. It may also be worth looking at your dress code, and seeing if it needs adjusting for the winter months. This is relevant not just in terms of footwear – suit shoes tend to have poor traction – but also in terms of the weather, and keeping people warm and comfortable at work.
Repair and maintain
While gritting and sweeping paths is an important part of facility maintenance, it isn’t all about clearing slip hazards. Certain existing problems may also linger into the winter months, and make the conditions at your workplace even more hazardous. An obvious example is physical damage to pathways or walkways, which could get worse as water freezes and expands in cracks or other damage, causing additional hazards.
Other elements of your site which help people to navigate safely may also not be in a fit state of repair. Handrails are crucial for keeping balance in icy conditions, so it’s important to ensure that these are stable and freshly painted, with no rust or jagged edges. Signage which helps people to navigate safely should also be present and highly visible (ideally illuminated), such that it can be seen in the dark and gloomy weather.
Proper maintenance and preparation is also important in case someone does have an accident. You should be able to reach someone without causing any additional danger, and to have a first aid room or other area to move them to if needed. This should be properly stocked, and someone on site should have some form of first aid training. Emergency personnel should also be able to navigate the site safely, with the help of the aforementioned signage and repairs.
Keeping it cosy
Winter wellbeing doesn’t stop when you enter the workplace. While making sure that people can make it in will be your primary goal, you may also need to make adjustments to ensure that people are content and comfortable. On a basic level, this will mean raising temperatures to a comfortable level with air conditioning, radiators or heaters.
You should check that all occupied parts of the building are being heated properly, and that individuals are not suffering by being near colder areas, such as windows or doors. Men and women also tend to have different tolerances to heat, so it’s worth checking that everyone is comfortable, and acting accordingly. Make things too stuffy and people could start drifting off to sleep – particularly with the lack of natural light.
You should also check that people are not spending too much time working outdoors in cold conditions. Rectifying this may mean amending dress codes, allowing people to take regular breaks indoors to warm up, providing hot drinks, or even providing a patio heater or some form of shelter on site. Some employees may admit that they’re suffering from the cold to ‘save face’, but their illness will be your loss, so it’s worth making changes regardless of feedback.
As important as improving your facilities is making sure that people are protecting themselves. You can install as many lights as you want and scrape the pavements clean every morning, but if people aren’t acting in a safe manner, they will still be liable to injuries and accidents. Investing in a bit of training or some simple ‘toolbox talks’ will help to remind people of the risks they face in winter, and further shield you against any liabilities.
The most important factor in winter safety is awareness. With many risks happening at ground level – and visibility often at a premium – it’s crucial that employees keep their eyes peeled for any risks. Slip and trip hazards are the most common, and taking things slow is always a good habit to get into when ice or leaves are a factor.
Keeping your hands out of your pockets is also important in case you do slip, either to grab onto something, shield your fall or simply help to balance yourself. You may also want to think about company footwear, and whether your dress code needs to be changed for the winter months – both in terms of slip hazards and the cold winter weather.