When the weather turns colder, employees who work inside can turn up the AC or put on extra clothing.
However, for those who work outside, the change of season brings extra hazards that employers need to be aware of.
The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 and accompanying Approved Code of Practice set out the required temperatures for working.
They provide workplaces must be at least 16C or 13C where rigorous physical effort is required. However, the rules don’t apply “where it would be impractical to maintain those temperatures”. In other words, there is no legal minimum temperature for working outside – even if it’s brass monkeys out there!
The regulations recognise it can be very difficult controlling the environment or separating workers from the cold – cranking up the thermostat is not usually an option outdoors!
Nonetheless, employers have a duty of care to make sure no one works in unsafe or unhealthy conditions, including cold weather.
What about schools?
The Education (School Premises) Regulations stipulate minimum temperatures for the learning environment. In a classroom, the lowest temperature should be 18 degrees, and where physical activity is involved, e.g. a gym hall, it should be 15 degrees.
However, if the room in question involves less than usual activity, such as a nurse’s room, sick room then the lowest temperature should be 21 degrees.
What can be done to help?
The Health & Safety Executive set out some helpful control measures:
- Control the task
- Control the clothing
- Allow workers to adapt their way of working
- Monitor employees.
If outdoor winter work can’t be avoided, the amount of time spent outside should be reduced and a risk assessment carried out. When temperatures become particularly low it may be necessary to stop work altogether.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 says all workers should be given adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). What’s adequate depends on the working conditions. Key winter PPE will include sturdy work boots that provide both warmth and grip.
However, suitable protection against the cold may require a little thought. For example, while thick gloves provide warmth, they may be no good to workers needing nimble hands to work. Fortunately, there are products designed to protect against the cold that still allow equipment to be used, such as touch screens and mobile devices. Directly asking those working outside can often lead to the right solution.
Support may also take the form of regular breaks in a warm room with hot drinks. While it sounds a bit obvious, workers should be told how to keep warm, for example, wearing multiple layers of clothing. Don’t forget, a Health and Safety Consultant will be able to provide insight if you are not sure on how best to proceed when the cold weather hits.
Protecting workers’ health should be the first priority for any organisation. Exposure to cold weather can be really serious – in extreme cases, it can lead to hyperthermia or frostbite.
Let’s hope weather conditions this winter don’t make things especially challenging!