Winter and Health & Safety
Updated: Feb 17
Winter is here and with it comes a new set of challenges for any business. To reduce the risks, the following areas should be considered carefully:
Remember that an employer has a legal duty to provide safe access and egress. Are all your lights working, especially external dawn to dusk sensor-operated floodlights? These are usually found lighting the car park or pathways to a company. Have you introduced any new processes that may require additional lighting? This may be a good time to update your lighting from traditional incandescent to LED. The initial outlay is soon recouped with the massive saving in running and maintenance costs.
Do you have machines with task lighting? If so, check they are clean and working. Advise staff to wear bright or light external clothing while traveling to and from work. If possible, encourage them to wear high visibility clothing.
Ensure yard staff wear their high visibility tabards with reflective strips. This helps drivers see them in low light, such as dusk.
Any battery-powered lighting should be checked before it is needed and new batteries installed so that the lighting is ready for the winter.
For those working indoors during winter, the HSE has produced an Approved Code of Practice that suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius.
Ensure heating systems are serviced and ready for use. If gas-fired, you should check to ensure that it has been serviced by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Are all the water pipes fully lagged to protect from frost? Now is a good time to check that all the pipework is in good condition with no leaks. Remember that trying to get a heating engineer in the winter is difficult and expensive, as they will be busy with the problems of every other business which didn’t bother to check its heating in good time. If your heating is not working, you will most likely have to hire heaters or send staff home, leading to increased expenditure or loss of productivity respectively. If your heating system consists of electrically powered radiators, fan, convection or radiant heaters, then you should not take a chance that they are still safe; after all, they are unlikely to have been used since last winter. They should be inspected and, if necessary, portable appliance tested (PAT) to ensure safety. It may be more cost effective to replace fan heaters annually instead of performing PAT, depending on how many appliances you have.
If your heating system is oil fired, have you checked the following:
Is the storage tank in good condition with no signs of leaks?
Are all valves and cut-off valves in good condition with no signs of damage?
Is the emergency shut off valve with fusible link in good condition?
Are all safety signs in place, legible, and in good condition?
Is it possible to fill the tank before increased demand in winter drives up prices?
Is all firefighting equipment in date and serviced?
The bunded area should be in a good, clean condition with no waste left in the bottom. Drain valves should be maintained with no signs of damage.
Storage tanks are often the target for thieves or arsonists and care should be taken to ensure that the tank is secure. That will often include lighting, which can also make life easier when maintaining the tank or making deliveries to it.
Company car drivers
It seems that Britain is caught out by the arrival of winter every year. Don’t let the lessons of last year go to waste. Are your drivers prepared for winter driving? Perhaps it is a good time to provide refresher training for your drivers. This should be noted so that an audit process can keep track of the precautions that you have taken.
Vehicles should be serviced as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Ensure drivers are carrying out their checks before journeys. These should include checks on tyres for cuts, correct pressure, even wear, minimum tread (don’t forget to check the spare).
Check to verify that oil and water are at the correct levels
Remember to use anti-freeze in the radiator before the winter starts.
Lights should be clean and free from any cracks or chips, with no signs of water ingress. Check the lights work and are of the correct brightness.
Make sure that drivers are aware of, and encouraged to carry any (or all) of the following:
Breakdown cover contact details
In-car phone charger
First aid kit
It is worth considering, if travel conditions are particularly hazardous, letting staff who are able to do so work remotely.
Slips, trips and falls
Do you have a good housekeeping policy in place? If you provide the salt for gritting your paths, check and re-stock if required. Ensuring that paths and walkways are free from old leaves will reduce the likelihood of slips.
Do you have staff who work outside? If so, remember that you are required to ensure that if there is a risk posed to them by a particular duty and that risk cannot be dealt with by any other means on the risk control hierarchy, suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) should always be provided, including garments, gloves, foot and headwear.
All water pipes should be lagged, especially external, and taps checked for leaks. If the external taps are not used any more, have them removed, or fit internal valves so that a leaking tap can be isolated without having to shut off the water to the entire building. If you do not feel these precautions are necessary, consider the disruption that could be caused if you had a burst pipe:
Damage to the work area
Damage to machinery and equipment
Loss of production while clean-up takes place
Risk of injury to employees
Loss of time while making arrangements
All of the above points are for you to consider. They may or may not be relevant to your particular business. Most are easily overlooked and can have a dramatic effect.
It’s also worth remembering that colds and flu are far more prevalent at this time of year; have you got a business interruption plan that addresses the risk of key personnel being off sick?
Ensuring the above points are addressed should also assist you in complying with the Health and Safety legislation and ensure that your business weathers the winter.
The main legislation relevant to this article is:
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – General duty of care
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 – Heating, lighting and maintenance, floors and traffic routes.
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