Ask Kate and Gavin: my staff are worried it isn’t safe to travel in bad weather. Help!

  • Health & Safety
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Peninsula Team, Peninsula Team

(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 was worried about their staff travelling for work in bad weather. So, they asked Kate Palmer, Peninsula’s HR Advice and Consultancy Director, and Gavin Scarr Hall, Peninsula’s Director of Health & Safety, for expert advice.

Here’s what they had to say…

Hi Kate,

I run a food delivery service in my restaurant. So, my staff spend a lot of time dashing to and from the premises by car or on bike. Recent weather reports don’t look very good and one of my employees has expressed concerns about travelling in bad weather. I think others might soon follow.

Some of my employees only work on deliveries, so if they won’t travel then I don’t know what to do.

I don’t want to lose business if my staff aren’t making the trips to customers, but I also don’t want to put my staff at risk if it’s not safe to travel. How should I handle this?

-Anon

Gavin’s reply was…

Hi Anon,

As your staff spend a lot of time travelling for work, it would be wise to remind your workers about safe driving practices, especially during winter.

“I run a food delivery service in my restaurant. So, my staff spend a lot of time dashing to and from the premises by car or on bike.”

Extreme and cold weather can cause a number of issues for staff who travel for work. So, it’s important to be prepared for:

  • Unexpected road closures – staff will need to check for any road closures that might create issues along the route of their journey.
  • Delays – if roads are icy, it’s likely that drivers and cyclists will have to travel at slower speeds, making it difficult for your staff to get to their destinations on time.
  • Vehicles covered in snow and ice – it’s against the law to drive if snow is covering a vehicle’s windscreen, lights, mirrors, or roof. This is not only a dangerous move for the driver, but for others on the road if there are obstructions to the driver’s view. So, you’ll need to make sure all your work vehicles are clear before staff set off.
  • Road accidents – slippy roads and streets might make it easier for delivery workers to crash into other drivers or pedestrians. Drivers might also have less visibility in poor weather, making it more difficult to spot a nearby cyclist or driver. So, being extra vigilant and cautious is a must.

From what you’ve described, it sounds like you employ a lot of ‘lone workers’ – which is anyone who works by themselves without direct or close supervision. There are certain risks lone workers face anyway, but in bad weather there are even more.

You should (I hope) already have a process to help your staff manage the risks they might face while lone working. This includes processes and tools for staying in regular touch with them and keeping tabs on their whereabouts.

You’ll be able to get a better idea of the risks to your staff by carrying out a Health & Safety risk assessment. This way, you can identify any potential hazards to your staff travelling in bad weather. Then, you can see if there are ways you can help to remove or reduce these risks. In your case, you may need to carry out a specific lone workers risk assessment.

Examples of safety precautions might be:

  • Rescheduling deliveries to times when the weather improves.
  • Adjusting work rotas so that employees don’t spend too long outside in the cold.
  • Providing waterproof, windproof and durable clothing.
  • Allowing for regular breaks and providing access to warm drinks.
  • Buddying up workers when they go out on deliveries.
  • Providing emergency supplies.

Kate’s reply was…

If there are risks to staff driving or cycling to customers with deliveries, one way you could reduce risk is changing your delivery expectations. For example, you might want to give customers a heads up that delivery times might be longer or cancelled altogether on days when the weather is bad enough.

“Recent weather reports don’t look very good and one of my employees has expressed concerns about travelling in bad weather. I think others might soon follow.”

If your staff have any concerns about the safety of their travel, you should speak to them one-to-one. If taking safety precautions like the ones mentioned above aren’t enough to calm their fears, you should see if there are any alternative duties you can give them instead.

You should also check local travel guidance if you think the weather reports look worrying. If official guidance is saying to avoid or minimise travel, you should listen to this advice and take appropriate steps to protect your workers.

“Some of my employees only work on deliveries, so if they won’t travel then I don’t know what to do.”

If you think travel isn’t safe and you don’t have alternative work to give, you may have to make arrangements for workplace lay offs.

Essentially, if you’re unable to carry out your usual business operations temporarily, you would have to apply lay off rules to your staff. This means they don’t carry out any work for you during the time you’ve halted their duties, but you continue to pay them in full. That’s unless your contracts allow for unpaid or reduced pay lay-offs.

In that case, you would either agree to pay staff on reduced pay or the statutory guaranteed pay (the legal minimum amount).

However, if you’ve determined that travelling for work is safe, taken all the right steps and your employees still refuse to work, you may have grounds to take disciplinary action. However, this isn’t an option to be taken lightly. You should make sure you’ve heard your employees' concerns and taken reasonable steps to support them first.

It’s risky ground to take action against an employee if they are raising safety concerns, so you would need to be able to prove that their fears are ‘unreasonable’ and you have taken all the necessary steps to make sure their work is safe. Otherwise, you may end up with a tribunal claim on your hands.

It will help you greatly if you have an adverse weather policy to confirm the options available for staff who can’t work in extreme weather. This should include details around taking on alternative duties, safety measures, expectations for turning up to work, closing the business and how this affects pay.

Laying out expectations upfront about what you will do to manage your business when hazardous weather strikes will help avoid any issues and stress if an unpredictable storm does hit.

I’m attaching a free sample template of a severe weather and travel disruption policy for you below. Hope this helps!

And if you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to book in for a free advice call.

Got a workplace query? Email kate.palmer@peninsula-communications.com

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