The dangers of working in cold conditions
Posted on 17th Dec, 2020 | By Lorretta Tatham
We’re getting well into winter now, and with the temperatures having dropped significantly over the last few months, outdoor working conditions can now be particularly hazardous. Now, employers have a legal responsibility to maintain certain temperature levels at work, as it comes under their legal duty of care according to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. These regulations specify that the minimum workplace temperature indoors needs to be at least 16 degrees, and if the work involves rigorous physical work, it has to be at least 13 degrees.
Obviously, these are only guidelines, as realistically employers and site managers have little control over exactly how cold it is outside. However, they do still have a clear legal responsibility to make workers as safe and comfortable as they can. Not only does it result in more pleasant working conditions for employees, but it can also help to effectively mitigate some of the most pivotal dangers that cold working conditions can present.
How cold temperatures can make workplaces more hazardous
Chilly temperatures are rarely desirable conditions for anyone, but they can be particularly dangerous for anyone working at height.
To begin with, the cold has a marked effect on fine motor control, which can result in fumbles or loss of grip at key moments. If you’re working atop a roof or scaffold tower, even something as minor as a dropped tool could mean serious injury or even death for someone working or passing by below. By the same token, losing your grip on a ladder or any other type of access equipment when ascending could have equally devastating consequences. Wind chill is an especially big problem when working at height, which means the higher off the ground you’re working, the bigger the risks involved.
Even manual handling at ground level is risky enough – if cold temperatures cause you to lose your grip on a heavy object, there’s potential for serious injury to you or a colleague. Not all accidents will involve a loss of grip, either. Cold temperatures can also be a major factor in lapses in concentration, and even momentary lapses can be more than enough to result in serious accidents.
These are some of the biggest and most common-sense dangers, but not everyone is aware of the effect that the cold can have on existing conditions. We’ve told you before about how the effects of vibration on health are commonly underestimated. People who routinely work with high-intensity power tools are at risk of not just damage to their hearing, but also of developing Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome – a painful and often debilitating disease of the blood vessels, nerves and joints. Those who develop this condition will often find that cold temperatures can trigger painful attacks in their fingers.
Excessively cold temperatures can ultimately end up causing a range of serious conditions for employees, including frostbite, hypothermia and chilblains, placing the onus on employers to take proactive measures to ensure that everyone stays healthy, comfortable and safe.
What can employers do?
PPE, or personal protective equipment, should always be one of the biggest priorities for any employer. The law is quite clear when it comes to employers’ responsibilities on PPE – for example, it has to be provided at no cost to workers, and must be appropriate for the job at hand. For employees working outdoor in cold weather for example, appropriate gloves are an absolute must. Employers must also balance the safety tradeoffs that some types of PPE might present, too. Things like earmuffs and balaclavas might be great at warding off the cold, but they can also limit peripheral vision and hearing, which could compromise safety on a busy work site.
Besides PPE, employers must also provide dedicated warmer areas for taking regular breaks, often in the form of Porta cabins. Hot drinks are important too, as they serve the dual purposes of helping workers hydrate and keep warm.
Timings are important too. Employers might consider delaying certain jobs until they can be completed in more favourable conditions, or rescheduling shifts with the same objectives. Essential jobs will often require detailed risk assessments to take into account any impact that rain, snow, ice or wind chill might have on overall safety.
This is just a basic overview of some of the essential measures that will need to be taken – you might find that your own workplace requires additional specific precautions.
And if you decide that they could benefit from any additional training or guidance, that’s exactly what we provide here at Browns Safety. We provide a wide range of accredited safety courses on a range of topics, including basic Working at Height training, and access equipment courses. Since the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, we also now offer a comprehensive range of online safety courses. We are currently taking bookings for these courses, so if you’d like to reserve your places, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can click through to the main course pages listed above, or alternatively contact us directly by calling us on 01282 615517, or emailing us on firstname.lastname@example.org.