What Does The Cold Weather Mean For Employee Safety

It doesn’t matter if you are an indoor or outdoor worker, the cold can affect your health.

The law does not stipulate a minimum or maximum temperature for working conditions. It is recommended that the minimum temperature should be 16 degrees or 13 degrees for physical work. However, working temperature must be reasonable. Employers must respect the health and safety regulations that require the temperature be at a comfortable level and employees must have clean and fresh air.

Cold weather is more likely to affect those who work outdoors. Below are just some of the ways that the low temperatures can have an impact on an outdoor worker’s health:

  • Dehydration: This is known as a common risk for work in hotter temperatures, however it can be worse in the cold weather. As you layer up in clothing when the weather gets cold, you are likely to sweat more. In cold conditions, sweat evaporates quicker, tricking your brain in to not realising you are losing water. This can leave a physical worker extremely dehydrated.
  • Raynauds: This is a common condition that can affect the blood supply to certain parts of the body. This commonly affects fingers and toes. The blood vessels go in to temporary spasm blocking the flow of blood. The symptoms can last anywhere for a few minutes to several hours. The sufferer usually experiences pain, numbness and pins and needles in the affected body parts.
  • Hypothermia: If the body’s core temperature drops by 2 degrees, hypothermia develops. This drop in temperature causes organs to shutdown and can prove to be deadly.
  • Painful joints: The cold weather can cause people to experience aching joints. Joints most commonly affected are knees, hips and ankles.
  • Heart attacks: During cold weather, blood flow is concentrated more in the core of the body which can put the heart under more strain. The British Heart Foundation found that the risk of a heart attack or stroke doubles when the body is exposed to the cold for a prolonged period of time.

For an indoor worker, the colder conditions can have these effects on your health:

  • Colds and flu: When the weather starts to get cold, this can weaken the immune system. Therefore, picking up colds from others is more likely to happen in the winter. Poor ventilation in workplaces can lead to the spread of colds and flu when working in close proximity of others. The norovirus, also know as the winter vomiting bug, is rapidly spread this way.
  • Asthma: Cold or damp weather conditions can aggravate the airways of asthma sufferers. Similarly, so can closed environments with heating and limited ventilation, such as offices.

To help prevent any of the above happening to you, here are a few tips for working in the cold weather:

  • Make sure that you eat well and drink enough
  • Stay well rested
  • Take regular short breaks
  • Stay dry or take time to dry off
  • Dress appropriately for the conditions

Employers also have a responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees as they have Duty of Care. Therefore, employers should:

  • Monitor the workplace temperature and conditions and bring in additional heating if the temperature falls below a reasonable level.
  • Introduce flexible work patterns so that employees are not working in the cold for too long.
  • Allow staff breaks for employees to warm up and get a hot drink.
  • Monitor employees whereabouts, so you know they are safe, particularly if working outdoors. Provide them with a personal safety, this will give workers peace of mind knowing that you will be able to see their whereabouts and send assistance to their location if they need help.

In the UK, temperatures are known to drop to 0 degrees or below, which can bring about ice and snow. Slip hazards are responsible for a third of all non-fatal injuries at work. These can be more common in the winter months because of the ice. In this weather:

  • Make sure that appropriate footwear is worn to avoid slips and trips on icy paths.
  • Grit around the entrance to buildings and pathways to obtain easy access to your property.
  • Ensure floors are regularly mopped and display a wet floor sign. Snow and ice bought in on shoes can melt causing floors to become slippery and turn into a slip hazard.
  • Ensure that if paths and roads are exceptionally icy, that you do not travel unless necessary.
  • If you do have to travel, ensure you are driving or walking at a slow pace, and make sure you leave with enough time to reach your destination.
  • Finally, make sure that you have a cold weather safety kit in your car just in case you find yourself stranded unexpectedly.