Winter safety guidance - Cold weather

Published: 29 Nov 2018

The winter months bring dark evenings and often cold temperatures. These factors can pose added risk to many organisations and should be carefully considered when conducting risk assessments for both staff and customers. We look at a few of the high risk areas and ways to reduce the likelihood of an accident.

Ice on pavements

Snow and freezing temperatures create a serious hazard, and considerably increase the risk of slipping and falling. The employer’s duty is to ensure the workplace is safe and without risks to either workers or visitors on the site. They must review the risk assessment because conditions have changed, and the risk of slips and falls is much greater than it would otherwise be. They must adopt methods of removing the added risks by clearing snow and ice, and take appropriate action to prevent it becoming slippery again and increasing the risk.

The Approved Code of Practice to the Workplace Regulations, Paragraph 96, tells employers that they should make arrangements to minimise risks from snow and ice. This may involve gritting, snow clearing and closure of some routes, particularly outside stairs, ladders and walkways on the roof.

Everywhere that people walk or pass should be treated, paths, roads, including car park surfaces. And it should be done properly and effectively. Always remember that it is the conditions that cause slipping; the fault does not lie with the shoes that people wear. The guidance for employers on the HSE website is very helpful. It clearly says that employers should have a system in place to manage the conditions, and that car parks need to be included.

Use of High Visibility Apparel

High-visibility or “hi-vis” protective garments are designed to alert the surroundings to the wearer’s presence, achieved through the use of fluorescent material and reflective strips. The main goal is to distinguish the wearer from the background so that he or she is visible from all angles, at any time of day and in all weather conditions. Judging by manufacturers’ tests, a person with high visibility clothing is visible from up to 300 metres away, while a person without it is at best visible from up to 50 metres.

The use of fluorescent material achieves visibility during the brighter part of the day but also helps to increase visibility at night. The reflective strips are designed for visibility during the darker hours of the day. The reflective strips require some form of light source to work and create retro-reflection. Without a light source, the reflective strip does not aid visibility.

High-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) is needed if you work when there is low light and poor visibility, especially if you are working around moving vehicles (cars, trucks or other machinery travelling under their own power – e.g., forklifts, backhoes, etc). High-visibility items allow you to be seen by the drivers of those vehicles sooner and more readily. This increases your safety at work. The human eye responds best to large, contrasting, bright or moving objects. Worker visibility is enhanced by high colour contrast between clothing and the work environment against which it is seen.

It is recommended that a hazard assessment be carried out on each job site to evaluate the workplace or work site for known or potential hazards a worker can encounter while performing a job or task.

When doing a hazard assessment where HVSA might be required, consideration should be given to:

  • The type and nature of the work being carried out – including the tasks of both the HVSA wearer and any drivers.
  • Whether workers will be exposed to heat and/or flames (if so, flame-resistant HVSA would be required).
  • Work conditions, such as indoor or outdoor work, temperature, work rates, traffic flow, traffic volume, visibility, etc.
  • The workplace environment and the background workers must be seen in (e.g., is the visual area behind the workers simple, complex, urban, rural, highway, filled with equipment, cluttered).
  • How long the worker is exposed to various traffic hazards, including traffic speeds.
  • Lighting conditions and how the natural light might be affected by changing weather (sunlight, overcast sky, fog, rain, or snow).
  • Factors that affect warning distances and times, such as the volume of traffic, the size of vehicles, their potential speeds, the ability to stop quickly, and surface conditions.
  • If there are any engineering and administrative hazard controls already in place (e.g., barriers that separate the workers from traffic).
  • Any distractions that could draw workers attention away from hazards.
  • The sight lines of vehicle operators, especially when vehicles are operated in reverse.
  • If certain jobs, or the function being done, need to be “visually” identifiable from other workers in the area.

Once a hazard assessment is complete, the employer can select appropriate controls.

Taking special precautions during the winter months can help keep your staff and customers safe, for advice and support please feel free to contact us