We’ve seen some pretty severe weather here in the UK over the past couple of weeks with temperatures plummeting in the wake of Storm Caroline which brought deep snow to many parts of the country, leaving motorists stranded and the RAC warning us to think twice before travelling. Anybody working outside in the construction industry will have faced the brunt of this bad weather and for those working at height, there are extra risks to look out for. While keeping yourself warm is an important factor in staying safe and healthy while working health and safety professionals warn that during the harsh winters with treacherous conditions, the risk of slips, trips and falls increase significantly.
The UK Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 says that
“It is the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”.
One of the duties required is providing a safe and healthy working environment and this can be a challenge for employers during the winter months when snow, ice and frost abound on construction sites and in and around businesses premises. We’ve all heard stories of employees or members of the public being awarded compensation for suffering an injury after slipping in icy or snowy conditions.
Providing a workplace that is totally free of risk is almost impossible, especially with weather conditions changing quickly at times. However, having a well-considered policy and a prioritised procedures for dealing with icy conditions can go a long way towards keeping accidents to an absolute minimum. A comprehensive winter risk policy coupled with effective risk assessment processes are fundamental to reducing accidents caused by severe weather conditions.
Some good practice tips for managing the extra risks that result from severe weather conditions include:
· Incorporating a winter risk policy into the existing health and safety policy via a recognised health and safety management system (such as OHSAS 18001).
· Maintaining records that show that the plan has been delivered and keeping them for a minimum of three years.
· Documenting the company’s proactive winter management plan and service activity.
· Making sure that the plan is based on accurate and up to date weather information and agreeing action triggers for service.
· Comprehensively investigating any accidents that may occur and recording the details.
· Making sure that the company has adequate and effective resources such as a dedicated team who are properly trained, safety checked gritting vehicles and equipment and plenty of salt supplies.
· Carrying out detailed surveys of the each site and specifications with hazardous substances fully identified and specific gritting instructions for each area.
· Regularly reviewing the plans and policies to ensure that they are relevant and up to date.
Although the ultimate responsibility rests with the employer, anybody working in a high risk industry has a personal responsibility to behave in a sensible manner at all times. With weather conditions often changing rapidly, we all need to be on the lookout for any hazards that may suddenly arise so that we can report them to the designate person who will then take measure to reduce the risk and keep the workforce safe.