We all know that there is more to dealing with inclement weather at work than just whacking the heating on; but did you know that, according to the HSE, occurrences of accidents at work statistically increase in the colder months.
For those working in factories, warehouses and other industrial environments, there are extra hazards and considerations when compared to your average office workplace, so we’ve compiled some top tips to help you prepare as much as possible for whatever the months ahead might throw at you.
Maintain and make cold-weather provisions for machinery and pipes
If you work in an environment with heavy machinery, or use forklifts and other industrial machines, they can sometimes behave unusually when exposed to extreme weather or sudden changes in temperature. Making sure all of your equipment is serviced at the appropriate intervals and checked regularly should help to minimise the risk of things going wrong in winter. Having somewhere safe and sheltered to store forklifts, and other industrial vehicles, where they won’t freeze up overnight, is vital.
Protect pipes from freezing temperatures with insulation, if needed, and regularly check for any damage, blockages or leaks during the winter. If frozen or leaking pipes cause essential systems to fail then you may be forced to close the premises, so it makes sense to conduct daily checks throughout the months when temperatures drop to, or below, freezing.
Ensure a reasonable working temperature for your staff
Whilst under law there is not a specific minimum temperature defined for workplaces, it does have to be ‘reasonable’. As a general guideline, 16°C is considered the minimum acceptable room temperature at work, or 13°C if the work involves rigorous physical effort. It’s not always possible to maintain an exact temperature in all parts of a work location, in a warehouse for example, so if workers are working for a prolonged period in somewhere that is colder than this, they will need to be provided with PPE to ensure they are protected from the low temperature.
Ensure that the weather isn’t making normal work too hazardous. You may need to conduct new risk assessments if the weather or outside temperature changes the way that your staff do tasks or have an impact on speed of working..
Have a plan in place for weather-related staff absences or workplace closures
If some, or all, of your staff can’t make it to work because of extreme weather conditions, or if you experience cold/weather-related issues at work which means you need to close the doors and send everyone home, you need to have plans and policies in place so that this can be managed safely and with minimal knock-on impact. Your workers need to know who to contact in the event that it’s unsafe for them to travel to work, as well as having a process in place to let employees know if you’re going to remain closed. It also helps everyone know where they stand to have a documented policy on any specific payment/salary terms that relate to an inability to work due to bad weather.
If any of your staff have childcare commitments then winter conditions can sometimes mean that schools or other facilities are closed and they must take time off unexpectedly.
Make sure you have the correct equipment to deal with snow and icy conditions
Your responsibilities could include everything from gritting the car park and walkways that staff use to gain access to the workplace, to clearing away deeper snow to allow vehicles and people to access certain areas and entrances. If you use forklifts, you can get attachments for clearing snow, or use hand ploughs to do the job manually.
You’ll also need to make sure that entrances and areas where people walk are not wet and slippery and high-risk areas are clearly signposted until the danger has passed. Make sure you have plenty of safety equipment to hand, such as signs, safety cones or high-vis tape to effectively warn people about possible risks.
If you’re not sure what cold-weather equipment that you might need for your warehouse this winter, we can help you find the right products and accessories for your requirements. Contact us today.
For further advice on your employer responsibilities when affected by adverse weather or temperatures, visit ROSPA or the HSE website.
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