When winter approaches, outdoor workers have to negotiate new hazards. Poor light, exposure to cold and slippery surfaces can lead to accidents causing severe injury, ill-health and even a threat to life. When workers experience excessive cold, they are more likely to behave unsafely as their ability to make decisions and/or perform manual tasks deteriorates. Shorter daylight hours can also affect the ability to see and be seen.
Every year there are over 2,500 RIDDOR incidents involving transport in the workplace and being struck by a vehicle is one of the most common causes of fatal workplace accidents. Apart from causing dangerous driving conditions, rain, ice and snow can increase the risk of slips and trips, which are the most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces. Here, CHAS sets out ten ways to help prevent accidents throughout the winter:
Carry out daily safety meetings
Safety briefings are a useful way to keep health and safety in workers’ minds and should cover changes in weather, temperature, shorter days and low light. Keep meetings brief and focused to maximise retention. Discuss the day’s activities, risks that apply, and how to work safe. Make sure workers know that if at any time they feel they are working in an unsafe way, they can stop, report and seek advice.
Review your safety clothing
Thermal comfort is key to worker productivity and maintaining a consistent body temperature is vital. It’s important that protective clothing includes a breathable base layer to wick away moisture, an insulating mid-layer and waterproof outer layer. Consider whether footwear is waterproof, and provides enough grip and warmth. Are helmet liners or beanies compatible with hard hats? Do workers require extra layers? Cold temperatures can cause loss of feeling, making detailed work difficult and can even lead to frostbite.
Issue photoluminescent safety stickers
A study published by The Institute for Work & Health in January 2013 showed that the rate of work injury goes up when light is poor. When passing through areas of ambient lighting, photoluminescent helmets will absorb energy and then glow as the wearer passes into darker areas. Retro-reflective stickers can also be added to helmets to enhance the visibility, and highlight key messages, day and night.
Comfortable, high-visibility clothing
Hi-vis clothing helps drivers of approaching vehicles see the wearer, gives them more time to react and reduces the risk of people being hit. Genuine hi-vis has fluorescent material providing daytime visibility, and retro-reflective tape that reflects light directly back toward light sources.
Reflective over-vests or jackets are available as well as full-body hi-vis clothing, with thermal insulation for winter temperatures. A risk assessment will identify what hi-vis protection is necessary to suit the role and environment. Wearing more unusual colours – or any colour that passes the EN ISO 20471 test – to replace or contrast against the traditional yellow can also help wearers to stand out and combat ‘hi-vis fatigue’.
Encourage regular, frequent breaks
Working in cold temperatures can lead to a lowering of the body temperature, which in turn can cause problems with concentration and tiredness, increasing the risk of accidents. It can also be more tiring working in low light. Regular breaks in warm, sheltered environments and consuming hot drinks will help, and drying rooms should also be provided where wet clothing can be dried.
Put up clear signage to warn of danger
Slips and falls can occur more frequently in winter due to wet floors, snow and ice. Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 states that employers must use safety signs where significant risk continues after all other relevant precautions have been taken. Notices must be kept clearly displayed, unobstructed and well-maintained. It’s also essential that all staff understand what signs mean.
Introduce warm-up exercises
Encouraging workers to take part in 10 minutes of stretching at the start of their working day can get their blood circulating and warm up cold muscles. As well as fostering team spirit exercise increases energy levels, and therefore productivity, and decreases soft tissue injuries.
Practice all aspects of driving
Vehicles are common causes of accidents, particularly in low light. Twenty people were killed at work after being struck by a moving vehicle in 2019/20, representing 18% of all work-related fatal injuries. Of 65,427 incidents during that period, 2% involved RIDDOR-reportable injuries caused by a moving vehicle. Look to implement a reverse park requirement to ensure that all vehicles pull off in a forward movement.
It is also important that operators are advised to take things slower when the weather is bad and, if necessary, wait until conditions improve. If possible, supplement on-site learning with an online health and safety course.
Encourage healthy eating
It’s easy for healthy eating to go out the window in winter, but a diet high in sugar and stimulants such as caffeine can cause blood-sugar crashes, affecting concentration, alertness and information-processing. The knock-on effect of poor sleep and fatigue can be a huge threat to workplace safety, as well as health.
Employers may fear being seen to ‘meddle’, however, by providing educational resources and raising awareness through health-promotion initiatives, you can empower workers to make their own decisions. Involving employees in the design and implementation of a programme from the outset is also more likely to gain buy-in.
Be aware of mental health
Contrary to popular belief, suicide rates spike in the spring, not in winter. However, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter.
Courses can teach people to spot the symptoms of mental-health issues, offer initial help and guide sufferers towards further support. Also consider providing access to free online resources about tackling mental ill health in the workplace.
To find out how CHAS can help you visit www.chas.co.uk or call 0345 521 9111