The Met office warns of a February Freeze with 90 per cent of the UK to expect snow and plummeting temperatures. Winter weather has the potential to hit the UK hard, and can cause hazards for construction workers and others working outdoors. Whilst cold stress can have a serious impact on one’s health; wind, freezing rain and ice can make construction sites dangerous and cause an increase in site accidents and injuries.
Because of this, experts at Heat Traders have analysed data to find out how dangerous construction sites can be in the winter months and provide advice of what you can do to prevent injuries or ill health.
According to HSE data, construction is the deadliest industry to work in with 382 deaths in the last 10 years and 64,000 non-fatal injuries to workers each year.
When breaking this down by seasons 89 of those occurred within the winter months raising concerns for employee safety. Of those that died whilst working in construction in the winter months, a huge 48 per cent (the majority) died as a result of falling from a height and 24 per cent injured themselves as a result of slips and trips.
So how can we prevent this from happening and what are the laws regarding working outdoors in the cold?
What is the minimum legal temperature for outdoor workers?
The Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992 and accompanying Approved Code of Practice set out the required temperatures for working. Indoor 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.
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!
However, employers do have a duty of care to make sure no one works in unsafe or unhealthy conditions, including cold weather.
How can winter weather affect my working conditions?
Cold stress occurs when skin temperature plummets, causing heat to leave the body much faster than normal, and eventually reducing the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia are potential hazards if workers are not properly protected from the elements when working outside.
Falls are one of the most common construction site accidents and they can happen all year round. However, winter weather increases the risk of falls due to ice and wet, slippery surfaces if not treated correctly.
Winter driving accidents
Being on a construction site, it is easy to forget that winter driving rules for the road still apply. Construction vehicles aren’t usually as agile as cars because of their size and weight.
How to prevent accidents?
Experts at Heat Traders advise you to follow these measures:
- Educate your employees about how to work safely when the bad weather hits and what to do to prevent any accidents.
- Shield any areas that could be worst hit by the weather
- Treat all surfaces to prevent slips and falls
- Create warm break areas so construction workers can warm up
- Schedule outside work to be carried out in shorter durations, ensuring employees do not have to face the elements for long periods of time.
- Layer up and use the correct gear (provided by the employer). Ensure no skin is exposed and the body is full insulated
- Check the site regularly for any new hazards that could have been caused by the bad weather.
How to prevent cold stress?
Despite their being no legal minimum temperature in the UK, employers do have a duty of care to make sure no one works in unsafe or unhealthy conditions.
Employers should follow these helpful control measures:
- Employers should train their workers on how to recognise the environmental and workplace conditions that can lead to cold stress.
- Train employees on how to spot symptoms of cold stress and how to help those who are affected
- Train employees on how to select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
- Employers must monitor workers physical condition.
- Schedule frequent short breaks in warm dry areas, to allow the body to warm up.
- Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
- Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
- Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.
- Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters.