Ask Gavin: I’m worried about my outdoor workers in extreme weather. Help!

  • Health & Safety
Man in suit posing
Gavin Scarr-Hall - Director of Health & Safety at Peninsula

Gavin Scarr Hall, Director of Health and Safety

(Last updated )

Whenever a staff issue comes up, Peninsula advisers are on hand to help. There’s no query too big, too small, or too bizarre for our experts to unpack.

So if you’re sitting on a query, don’t hesitate to ask. It’s what keeps our Peninsula clients safe and successful all year round and gives them the peace of mind to focus on their business.

This caller had concerns about their outdoor staff working in extreme weather. So they asked Gavin Scarr Hall, Peninsula’s Director of Health & Safety, for expert advice.

Here’s what they had to say…

Hi Gavin,

I own a concrete mixing company and my employees spend long hours of the day out on cement mixers or barrowing in various jobs – some local, some a bit further out. The weather has been absolutely rubbish lately to say it politely.

Temps have been dropping to the minuses and I know a lot of my staff aren’t happy or comfortable working in these conditions. The downpour has been horrendous some days – so as you can imagine, this doesn’t bode well.

I’m not comfortable if my staff aren’t comfortable so I was hoping you could give me some pointers? If the temperature gets low enough, am I breaking the law by getting my staff to work?

I definitely don’t want to be putting anyone’s safety at risk or for anyone to be miserable.

-Anon

Gavin’s reply was…

Hi Anon,

Thanks for getting in touch. There are lots of things to consider when you employ workers who spend the majority – if not all – of their time working outside. Obviously, you can’t control the weather but its unpredictable nature can certainly wreak havoc on your operations.

“...my staff spend long hours of the day out on cement mixers and barrowing in various jobs – some local, some a bit further out”

While the weather is out of your hands, there are control measures you can take to help protect your workers in extreme conditions.

It is important to be aware that control measures might not be enough to reduce your safety risks if the weather is bad enough – but we’ll come to this scenario later.

As you mention, your staff work in construction. So, there is the risk that cold temperatures could lead to workplace accidents if your staff struggle to operate machinery and concentrate as they normally would on a mild day.

“Temps have been dropping to the minuses and I know some of my employees aren’t happy or comfortable working in these conditions. The downpour has been horrendous some days…”

Cold and wet hands make it far easier for staff to lose their grip on heavy items of machinery or equipment, which can lead to serious or even fatal injuries.

Plus, if your staff use power tools at all, they’re already at a higher risk of developing hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) and the cold can make this condition even worse.

I’m not saying this to make you worry – but it’s important to be aware of the risks whatever and wherever they may be.

So if you suspect the weather is shifting to uncomfortable levels, the best course of action is to carry out a thermal risk assessment. This will help you identify any risks to your staff and come up with a plan to help combat those risks.

In your risk assessment, you should consider:

  • the health risks associated with working outdoors in extreme weather – like cold stress and hypothermia
  • the risks of employees with health conditions or disabilities working in extreme temperatures
  • the safety risks associated with working outdoors in extreme weather – like the impact that extreme weather conditions might have on staff who handle equipment and operate machinery
  • the steps you can take to reduce any health & safety risks to your staff during bouts of extreme weather
  • the drawbacks of using certain types of protective equipment or measures

“If the temperature gets low enough, is it illegal for my staff to work?”

To give you the legal health & safety context, the law doesn’t specify a legal minimum temperature for outdoor staff. However, it does say you have to make sure your working environment is ‘reasonable’ for staff to work safely and comfortably.

So when the weather turns nasty, it’s important to make sure you’re providing personal protective equipment (PPE) for your outdoor workers.

Thermal gloves and clothing, for example, should be a necessity but you should also make sure your PPE is suitable for the job at hand. (It sounds obvious but just be cautious of PPE that blocks the ears or sight as this could lead to accidents too).

But aside from what your employees should wear, you should also consider other safety measures like:

  • providing facilities where your staff can take regular breaks, get hot drinks, and warm up
  • rotating shifts – so no worker is spending too much time out in the cold
  • providing training – so your staff understand the dangers of working in extreme weather and potential issues they should be on the lookout for
  • rescheduling and postponing work – until the weather improves

“I definitely don’t want to be putting anyone’s safety at risk or for anyone to be miserable”

Delaying work might be inconvenient but when the weather is bad enough, it could actually be unsafe for your staff to be working outside. That’s even when you’ve taken all the right steps to protect them.

If you do decide to halt your operations temporarily because of extreme weather, you will need to give your staff the time off as paid leave.

To make sure you know what you’re doing with your risk assessment, I’m dropping a link to our on-demand webinar session below. So, you can learn how to carry out a full risk assessment for your workers.

Watch Peninsula’s free on demand session: Risk assessments made simple

And if you have any more questions about managing outdoor staff in severe weather, you can speak to an expert directly via our chatbot or tap below to book in for a free advice call.

Hope that helps!

All the best,

Gavin

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