Five hazards to add to your winter risk assessment

Gavin Scarr Hall - Director of Health and Safety

January 12 2022

Have you updated your winter risk assessment yet?

With even colder weather on the way, your staff could fall victim to a number of seasonal hazards. Which could lead to serious injuries, absences, or even costly legal challenges…

That’s why it’s important you identify any hazards, add them to your risk assessment, and do all you can to reduce the risk.

To get started, add these common winter hazards to your list…

1. Slips and trips

Slip and trip accidents increase dramatically in the winter months. It’s your responsibility to keep walkways as clear of ice and snow as possible.

So, identify any heavily-used outdoor areas that could be risky if wet or icy. This could include:

  • Car park, pavements, pathways, or sloped areas.
  • Shortcuts such as grass paths or side entrances.
  • Anywhere that’s heavily-shaded or prone to flooding.
  • Areas under a canopy of trees – fallen leaves can rot and create dangerous conditions for your staff.

Clearing any obstructions and gritting paths is a great way to stop black ice forming on paths.

And it’s not just outside hazards you should consider. Darker days and colder temperatures can create issues inside your business, too.

Dark warehouses, unlit corridors, and stairwells could all become hazardous with poor lighting. Wet weather can make walkways slippery for employees.

2. Travelling to work

Snow and ice can impact an employee’s ability to travel to and from work. Encourage staff to leave early, as icy pavements, roads, and transport delays may make it difficult for staff to arrive on time.

During the winter, it’s a good idea to share guidance on how to stay safe on the roads. Make it clear that employees should contact you if they think the roads are too dangerous to drive on.

If the weather is really bad, consider whether the journey is necessary. Instead, you could allow staff to stay home until the conditions improve. To reduce disruption, you could:

  • Use remote working for a temporary period.
  • Roll out flexible working to allow staff to make up any lost time.
  • Allow staff to book the time off as paid leave.

3. Cold weather

A drop in temperature can cause dehydration, frostbite, and hypothermia.

To combat the risk of cold weather, consider whether you can reschedule any work that takes place outside. Can it be done during a warmer time of year?

If that’s not possible, it’s a good idea to encourage regular breaks indoors to limit the time your employees spend outside.

Make sure you provide suitable clothing – for example, a warm fleece in addition to their usual workwear. The following clothing should reduce the risk of harsh conditions:

  • An under layer of clothing, like a thermal vest.
  • Hand protection, like warm mittens or gloves.
  • A waterproof and windproof outer layer.
  • Insulated headgear.
  • Well-fitted boots and warm socks.

And during the winter, it might not just get cold outside. Staff who work indoors may also feel the chill. Draughty warehouses can be a challenge to heat, so consider providing hot drinks and a warm resting area for staff to enjoy during breaks.

Don’t forget to regularly check your heating system to make sure it’s working as it should.

4. Viruses

Viruses like the common flu spread rapidly over the winter. And with the added strain of COVID-19, you should take extra caution to reduce transmission.

Maintaining good hygiene standards and social distancing is a good place to start. You can also prevent any outbreaks by:

  • Asking staff to take a rapid lateral flow test before their shift.
  • Providing a supply of face coverings
  • Preventing crowding with one-way systems and distancing in communal areas.
  • Ensuring you keep up with regular cleaning and hygiene measures.

If staff do become sick, make sure they take a PCR test and isolate until they receive the result. If it’s COVID, they may need to isolate for up to 10 days. Staff can stop self-isolating after 7 days if they do a rapid lateral flow test on day 6 and 7 of your self-isolation period and:

  • both tests are negative (and 24 hours apart)
  • they no longer have a high temperature

Even if it’s not COVID, see if staff can work from home to avoid infecting others. The last thing you need is all your team off sick with a horrible cold.

If this isn’t possible, consider how you can better manage sickness. If your employee’s sickness means that they’re unable to carry out their usual work, think about other jobs they could do until they’re feeling better.

5. Mental health issues

Short days and long nights can leave staff feeling run down and depressed – and an increased workload doesn’t help.

It’s important that staff have a place to raise concerns all year round. Regular communication is important to avoid staff feeling isolated – especially those who work remotely.

Having an Employee Assistance Programme in place to help support staff can make this easier for you as an employer.

Once you’ve added your winter hazards…

Unsure about how to reduce these hazards in your business?

Don’t panic. From guiding you through your risk assessment to reviewing your workplace, our expert consultants are here to help.

Discover unlimited health & safety support or call your consultants to find out how we can support you through the winter period.

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