We all know that winter can be hazardous in certain jobs, but we tend to think of it as an outdoor issue. Yet walls and windows don’t always make a huge difference when it comes to winter safety – and there are plenty of other potential safety issues beyond the snow and cold.
Office workers can be equally vulnerable to winter conditions, while the safety of remote workers requires extra effort on the part of employers. Here then are just five tips on how to keep three employees safe during the winter months, and maintain both a happy and productive working environment.
Keep the heating on (at work and home)
This applies to home workers as well. Many businesses do not realise that they have a responsibility for the safety of their employees wherever they work – including in their own homes. Some people may feel incentivised to keep the heating off when working from home, particularly at the time of writing, when the UK is in the midst of an energy crisis, pushing prices up. Doing so could not only affect their concentration (leading to lower quality work), but also imperil their safety, leading them to become ill and miss time unnecessarily.
The best way to avoid this is to enter an open dialogue with all employees, and to assess their working conditions. By laying out your responsibilities in an employee handbook – and making your responsibility for remote workers explicit – you can encourage people to be honest about their circumstances, and come up with a solution that benefits everyone, whether that’s borrowing a space heater or accounting for the cost of heating bills (something the Portuguese government has just written into law).
Maintain your facilities
Perhaps the most obvious and important risk during the winter months is that of ice and snow. Autumn and winter weather can make the areas in and around your facility extremely hazardous, for all sorts of reasons. Ice is the obvious threat, but leaves can also be slippery. Both leaves and snow can also obscure other trip hazards, with the potential to cause serious injuries. All of this is exacerbated by low light, particularly on the way out of work in the evening.
Salting and clearing paths around your facility is an obvious and necessary solution, but this shouldn’t just be a passive process. Make a point of reacting to changes in the weather, and be practical about the necessity of coming into the office when the conditions might not be safe. With many businesses now having plenty of experience with remote working, this should be a comfortable transition, and one that could prevent injuries and transport delays.
Provide suitable equipment
Working outside in winter obviously requires particular equipment, but working inside can too. One obvious example would be heaters, with many workplaces not having sufficient coverage from central heating or air. This applies particularly to women, who evidence shows tend to feel the cold more, but also to remote workers, for whom using a heater may be significantly cheaper than using their central heating.
Other equipment may also need to be considered, however. If someone lacks shoes with grip to navigate the conditions on the way to work, they shouldn’t necessarily be forced to buy new ones. The same may go for warm clothes, or an umbrella, or a light for their bike. Even if you don’t buy these things for employees, you should consider these additional expenses when making decisions about when and why people need to attend the office in the winter months.
Consider travel requirements
We’ve already mentioned travelling into the office in terms of hazards around the site, but travel in general can be a difficult prospect during the winter months. Ice and snow can be hazardous for road users and cause havoc on public transport, potentially leaving people stranded. This is a safety issue that will also affect people differently, and potentially force employees who are further away to have to leave much earlier, introducing issues of fatigue.
Travel plans should be both reactive and flexible during the winter. Keep a close eye on weather reports, and consider remote working in periods where travel is likely to be difficult. Being mindful of travel distances and methods is also recommended – if some people live a few minutes walk away, others shouldn’t be penalised – or exposed to greater risks – because they have to catch a series of buses or trains.
Be mindful of SAD
Action on mental health is very much in vogue across the business world, and for good reason. Mental Health First Aid training and other workplace initiatives are creating a more positive culture around mental health, and making people more mindful and empathetic of other people’s feelings. This is never more relevant than during the winter months, where people statistically struggle the most.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the name for the condition which causes people to be less happy during the winter months. This is attributed to the lack of sunshine in many places, and the impact this has on our physical as well as mental wellbeing. We also tend to spent less time outdoors as a result of the cold weather, something that is also known to affect our mental health, and to get less exercise.
While it’s not without highlights, the winter is very few people’s favourite time of year, and this has a knock on effect for businesses. Not only can safety be compromised, but people’s mental health is frequently affected, making effective and compassionate management a key part of your winter responsibilities.
By taking all of the above factors into account and laying out plans for the winter period, you can ensure that your staff stays safe, content and productive at what is often a busy time. The results will not just come to bear in the short term, but build trust and respect that will benefit you for months and years to come.