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Events Webinars Dealing with winter hazards – get ready for the cold

Don’t be caught cold this winter – listen to our webinar, which we hosted on 6 December 2018, for expert advice on preparing for the icy blasts to come.

Whatever type of business you are involved with, make sure you know about the legal responsibilities and obligations around dealing with the worst of winter, as described by our in-house risk management team.

The webinar will offer you advice and guidance on how to better protect your:

  • Property
  • People and
  • Profit

Presented by: John Neil – Risk Management Adviser

Please click on the link below to view the webinar:

Transcript

Introduction

As we begin to brace ourselves for the coming colder weather it is important that we plan ahead and are prepared for anything it can throw at us, as prevention is far better than cure.

Businesses, property owners and people can experience many hazards in winter, probably more than any other time during the year and fall foul of problems caused by cold, icy and very wet conditions.

These problems can apply to any company that is public facing and based on the high street, on an industrial estate and visited by clients or a factory with a large workforce. Whatever type of business you run you should endeavour to run it as safely and effectively as possible during winter months to help reduce hazards in order to prevent accidents or incidents.

1. Protecting property

Did you know that a 1-centimetre thickness of freshly fallen snow at 4°c covering 100 square metres of roofing weighs approximately 100kg?

Snow and ice can cause many problems for buildings such as:

  • Additional vertical and horizontal forces placed on the building can cause structural damage
  • It can impair louvred ventilation systems from operating correctly
  • It can compromise any explosion relief venting that may have been installed
  • Fluid-filled systems can freeze, and melting snow and ice can overwhelm drainage systems and lead to
    water damage.

Protection measure to take

Common sense activities can help alleviate any problem winter can throw at us:

  • Ensure heating systems are serviced annually by competent engineers
  • Maintain and clear guttering and downspouts
  • Know the location of key services, stop taps and shut off valves in the premises to ensure a rapid shut down can be achieved if necessary
  • Ensure pipework is adequately lagged
  • Maintain heating on a frost stat setting, which is normally 4°c

Additionally, if the premises are protected by an automatic sprinkler installation, ensure any vulnerable parts are trace heated.

2. Protecting people

Slips, trips and falls

These are the most common types of accidents during the winter months and, thankfully, consequences are normally minor bumps and bruises. But, some can be more serious especially as we now have an ageing population and workforce. In fact, over 7,000 people per year are admitted to the hospital through falls during winter.

These type of incidents increase over the winter months due to one or a combination of factors such as:

  • Reduced hours of daylight
  • Frost, ice and snow
  • Wet and decaying vegetation especially leaves
  • Generally wet conditions

Steps you can take to reduce incidents

  • Identify areas most likely to be used by pedestrians for which you are responsible and maintain them by ensuring they are:
    • In a good state of repair (anything 15mm or over is regarded as a trip hazard)
    • Adequately lit
    • Clear of debris
    • Gritted ahead of freezing temperatures if possible
    • And ensure any change in level is identified.
  • Make sure reception areas are clean and dry. If necessary, purchase or use absorbent floor mats and use wet floor warnings
  • Record any risks identified and actions taken

To grit or not to grit

Despite scare stories in the tabloid press, the usual suspects will spring to mind – that clearing and gritting of walkways could lead to legal action being taken against you in event of a fall – actually, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, the HSE applaud the action taken in this respect.

The HSE said it is their objective to protect life and limb, not endanger it. They say that fear of litigation contributes to poor H&S and stories like the ones that appeared in the press do nothing to remove that fear.

The Management of Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 state “as far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstruction and any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall”.

The true position

You should minimise the risks present to your employees and visitors and plan for adverse weather by:

  • Identifying potential hazards. You may need to produce a clearing and gritting plan if you are a multi-site business or one that has many visitors or customers
  • Put measures in place to eradicate or reduce the risk such as:
    • Cordon off areas or close car parks
    • Provide warning signage
    • Remind employees to wear sturdy footwear with good traction

How to grit properly

  • Ensure regularly used entrances and walkways are promptly tackled – and do it properly!
  • Maintain a sufficient supply of grit or rock salt
  • Store spreading materials in a designated container near to points of use – poorly stored material clumps and becomes unusable
  • Carry out spreading when frost or snow is forecast or when walkways are damp or wet and the floor temperature is at or below freezing
  • The best time to spread is early morning, before employees arrive, and early evening, before frost settles
  • Ensure staff employed in any clearing activity are appropriately trained and clothed, and have suitable equipment to enable spreading
  • Do not use hot water as it will freeze
  • Record your inspections and actions

3. Lighting

With daylight hours short, you should re-assess the adequacy of lighting in the workplace.

Inadequate lighting can lead to poor performance, errors and cause eye irritation and headaches. Conversely, lighting that is too bright can also cause problems.

Correct lighting levels do have beneficial effects:

  • Employee wellbeing
  • Increase employee concentration
  • Help prevents accidents
  • Work quality improves

Remember – lighting requirements vary for different work areas, but artificial light may be required as winter daylight may not be sufficient. Examples of differing minimum lighting levels are:

  • Traffic areas and corridors with vehicle traffic 150 lux
  • Metalworking generally 750 lux
  • Electronic workshops, testing and adjustment 1,500 lux

4. Temperatures

You should consider installing indoor and outdoor thermometers as they will help you identify needs for increasing heating within a building or give you advice on the potential for snow and ice.

Indoor working temperatures should be a minimum of 16°c but this can reduce to 13°c if work includes vigorous physical effort.

Working outdoors

As temperatures drop, employers have a duty of care to protect their employees against wintry conditions and they should manage their health and safety in this environment.

Employees working outdoors in low temperatures can lose more body heat than they generate if they don’t move about much. This can lead to slower brain function and thus increase the likelihood of an accident. Wind-chill should also be taken into account as this can cause greater heat loss than purely cold weather.

To help protect employees from the effect of cold weather, and thus reduce the likelihood of an accident or incident, appropriate PPE should be issued. This can include (but is not limited to):

  • Gloves
  • Thermals
  • Hats
  • Coats
  • Safety Footwear
  • High visibility jackets and/or vests

If employees wear hard hats, ensure anything worn underneath does not affect its integrity. PPE suppliers will normally advise on the suitability of headgear that can be worn beneath a hard hat.

Hoods should preferably not be worn as they can reduce visibility and movement.

Employees working outdoors should be provided with facilities to allow them to warm up.

5. Winter driving

Road traffic accidents increase up to 10 times the norm during winter months, and this statistic increases the risk of one of your drivers being involved in an accident, so:

  • Have you installed the necessary checks and controls to minimise that risk?
  • Do drivers know what to do to minimise the risk of winter breakdowns?

Be prepared and drive safely this winter by reading yourself and your vehicles for severe weather. Simple steps involve:

Maintenance and servicing

In the run-up to winter, it’s now a perfect time to service your vehicle, giving you peace of mind in the knowledge that it has been professionally prepared for the coming months.

Regular maintenance and checks throughout winter are also important, and your winter vehicle maintenance routine should include checks of the following:

  • Antifreeze levels – Ensure they are filled to the correct level to avoid freezing
  • Door locks – Spraying with WD40 every few days during cold spells can prevent freezing
  • Battery – Replace your car battery at the first sign of trouble
  • Exhaust system – Ensure the system is in good repair; carbon monoxide leaks can be deadly
  • Fuel – Keep at least a quarter of a tank in case of unexpected delay
  • Heater and defroster – Ensure both are working properly
  • Headlights and hazard lights – Replace any faulty light bulbs immediately; ensure they’re kept clean
  • Oil – Ensure filled to correct level
  • Thermostat – Ensure it’s working properly
  • Windscreens – Clear all windows of snow/ice/dirt
  • Windscreen wipers – Repair if damaged and maintain proper washer fluid level
  • Number plates – Avoid fines by keeping these clean and legible
  • Tyres – Make sure tread is adequate and tyres are inflated properly.

Preparing for your journey

Always be ready for potential adverse weather. When bad weather does arrive, decide if it is actually necessary to drive. If conditions are really bad, is it possible to travel by other means? Can you rearrange your trip or avoid making the journey by using the phone or email?

If it’s deemed appropriate and you decide you really must travel:

  • Include an extra 10 minutes to prepare your vehicle before you set off
  • Clear all windows and roof of snow, ice and dirt
  • Give yourself extra time and stick to main roads where possible
  • Allow for extended stopping distances on winter road surfaces
  • Consider adding weight in the boot of light rear wheel drive vehicles to assist traction control
  • Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to arrive
  • Always put your safety first before punctuality in winter conditions
  • Always carry your mobile phone, fully charging it before you go
  • Listen to local traffic reports and heed advice from your local authority or police federation concerning driving safety

Keep a Winter Emergency Kit in your vehicle, containing:

  • Ice scraper and de-icer
  • Torch and spare batteries, or a wind-up torch
  • Warm clothes and blankets (for you and all passengers)
  • Boots
  • First aid kit
  • Jump leads
  • A shovel
  • Road atlas
  • Sunglasses (the glare off snow can be dazzling)

What to do if you break down

Having a well-maintained vehicle is the easiest way to avoid breaking down but breakdowns are more common during periods of cold weather and challenging road conditions, particularly snow and ice. In the unfortunate event of a breakdown, always remember “safety first” for you, your passengers and other motorists.

  • If you can, get your vehicle off the road – as far to the left side of the road as possible.
  • Warn other drivers by using your hazard lights, using side lights as well if it is dark or visibility is poor.
  • Put on a reflective jacket if you have one.
  • If you fear your vehicle may be struck, get out of the car if safe to do so and move well away from the traffic. If on a motorway, it is advisable to exit the vehicle by the passenger door and ensure all passengers do the same.
  • Do not allow anyone to stand in front of your vehicle or between your vehicle and oncoming traffic.
  • If on a motorway, keep clear from the carriageway and hard shoulder. It is best to retreat up the bank or behind a barrier if this is possible.
  • Once in a safe place, use your mobile phone or another available phone to call breakdown or other emergency services.
  • Never attempt to cross a motorway carriageway, instead follow arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder. This will direct you to a free phone that connects directly to the police / Highways Agency.
  • Be prepared to describe your vehicle, the problem you are having, your location and direction of travel. Motorway telephones and marker posts will include reference numbers of your location.
  • When your vehicle is repaired, take care when returning to the road, using the hard shoulder as an acceleration lane if on the motorway.

5. Profits

Even with preventative measures, you may still suffer a loss whether it be to property or personnel.

If you unable to operate how do you manage the needs and expectations of your employees, suppliers and customers?

All businesses of any size should have a simple but effective business continuity plan to help save time in the period immediately after a loss and help you recover more quickly.

A business continuity plan is not ‘rocket science’ – it is a sensible look at all operations within a business from a “what if” scenario with solutions put forward on how the challenge can be overcome. However, 75% of small businesses have no business continuity plan in place.

  • 93% – companies without disaster recovery who suffer a major data disaster are out of business within one year.
  • 96% – companies with a trusted backup and disaster recovery plan who were able to survive ransomware attacks.

6. Home safety

As the festive season approaches it would be very remiss not to mention certain aspects of safety in the home:

Carbon Monoxide

A colourless, odourless gas given off by all fossil fuel burning appliances such as gas and oil boilers, gas fires, wood burners and open hearth fires.

This gas can build up if appliances or flues have not been properly installed or maintained or can even build up in poorly ventilated rooms.

The HSE state that 11 people a year die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning so please ensure that all appliances are serviced by competent people and flues are swept and kept free from obstruction or blockage.

Christmas safety

Accidents frequently happen at Christmas generally due to additional excitement, more people in the house and an increase in the consumption of “festive spirit”. With just a little care and forward planning, most accidents can be avoided.

Particular attention should be paid to button cell Lithium batteries. These are the tiny batteries that are found in toys, remote controls, musical cards and other household items. They can easily be swallowed by small children and are toxic and can do devastating damage to internal organs.

7. Summary

Scientific research is proving extreme weather is becoming much more common, so make sure your buildings are safe places for people to work, shop, visit or live during winter months especially.

Assess hazards both outside and inside the building and as far as is reasonably practicable, provide solutions that help stop accidents and incidents from occurring.

It makes sense to ensure you protect your buildings, business, employees and anyone affected by your actions from the adverse effects of winter.