October has seen unusually good weather, but now the clocks have gone back and we are well into autumn, companies should be starting to think about the colder, wetter weather and shorter daylight hours, and ensuring their risk assessments processes are adequate to cope with what is to come.
With a rise in unpredictable weather patterns over the last few years – in places widespread flooding and snow and ice bringing parts of the country to a standstill – we have provided some simple, practical advice for employers and employees.
It is advised that employers must be flexible during floods or harsh weather conditions and should not force staff to ‘risk life and limb’ getting to work. Because people may not be able to travel to their workplaces, business does not have to stop entirely. With good business continuity and safety policies in place, together with a good communication system, business can continue to operate.
Employers have many things to consider, including safety within the workplace, minimum temperatures arrangements if the office needs to close, business continuity and the safety of employees (plus the general public and contractors). Plus you need to ensure any plans or solutions are communicated to the workforce.
Some of these aspects are featured in more detail below. It may be necessary to make quick decisions about closing the office or sending people home. These should be made considering risks and hazards, likelihood and severity, and ensuring that safety always comes first. You may wish to make decisions in conjunction with your health and safety representative and office manager.
Slips trips and falls
Walking to and from car parks or between buildings at work during wet or frosty weather requires special attention to avoid slipping and falling. Slips and falls are some of the most frequent types of injuries during the autumn/winter months. Main pathways and steps should be cleared as far as possible of wet/decaying leaves or snow and ice to allow safe access to buildings.
Employees should be reminded to avoid boots or shoes with smooth soles and heels, such as plastic and leather soles, and instead wear a pair of well insulated boots with good rubber treads and to walk slowly and with shorter steps when on icy surfaces. Employees should be reminded to remove as much snow and water from their boots as they can when entering buildings as water from melting ice on the floor can also lead to slippery conditions.
With the nights drawing in, check lighting is working and functional and sufficient enough for employees and visitors to see and avoid any hazards that might be on the ground.
Assess loose items on roofs, facades, general external areas and susceptible trees to ensure they aren’t a risk if the weather turns windy.
If outdoor working is required, ensure that suitable and sufficient PPE has been provided, including waterproof clothing and suitable gloves.
Driving for work and to/from work
Employees should be allowed extra time to complete journeys and factor in alternative routes. Ensure that they are not pressured to complete any journeys made dangerously difficult by the weather.
Working from home
This type of working might be seen as a solution, but employers should be aware that it is also their responsibility to ensure their employees’ health and safety if they are working from home. Home working risk assessments should be undertaken to ensure employees are able to comfortably and safely work from home.
It is important to consider contractors, freelancers and part time staff. Make sure you have a list of ways to contact all people who usually work within your workplace.
Members of the public
Ensure that suitable and sufficient signage is displayed to inform the public of important information.
Above all, at times of extreme and dangerous weather, it is essential that communication is retained throughout the workforce. Staff must be instructed as to what the company policy is, how to follow it and who to communicate with if they have any queries or problems.