The UK has been suffering the grip of unusually cold weather during the past couple of weeks: snow, ice and fog warnings have been put in place all over the country, and the freezing temperatures have left large areas blanketed in snow, making it difficult for millions of people to reach their workplaces.
With temperatures dropping to -15° in some areas, employers may find themselves facing complaints from their workers about the extreme weather preventing them from safely reaching work, or even completing their tasks due to the cold spell hindering their productivity levels. Despite there being no official legislation specifying a temperature at which a workplace becomes too cold to work by law, the HSE do provide extensive guidance on working in extreme temperatures, which they have recently refreshed due to the current situation.
Their guidance explains employers’ responsibilities in regard to working in cold weather and suggests different ways in which they can manage the temperature at the workplace and protect their workforce. The advice provided takes into account whether the workplace is located outdoors or indoors, and what the usual operating temperature of the environment in question is.
According to the Approved Code of Practice on the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, the minimum temperature at the workplace should be at least 16°, or 13° in case a large part of the work duties involve intense physical effort.
The main British Standards that can help employers assess and manage risks related to cold stress include guidance/requirements on:
- Protective gloves against cold
- Methods for the assessment of human responses to contact with surfaces
- Guide to design and evaluation of working practices in cold indoor environments
- Determination of required clothing insulation
- Risk assessment and management
For those working within an indoor environment, the HSE recommend that employers take the following steps to keep people as safe and comfortable as possible, ensuring that the cold does not hinder their wellbeing and/or productivity:
- Provide sufficient workplace heating, while ensuring the heating systems do not give off dangerous fumes into the environment
- Organise workplace procedures in a way that reduces exposure to cold areas or products
- Minimise draughts, while still providing sufficient ventilation
- Supply adequate insulating floor coverage and/or special footwear in case employees are required to stand on cold floors for long periods of time
- Supply adequate protective clothing/equipment suited for cold environments
- Introduce systems such as flexible working patterns or shift rotation
- Allow sufficient break times so that workers are able to get hot drinks and/or spend time in heated areas to warm up
For those working outdoors, the HSE have provided a separate guide recommending actions employers can take to support and protect workers from low temperatures. The HSE do stress the serious impact that cold weather can have on workers’ health if the risks are not being properly managed, especially during high-risk tasks, for example those involving the handling of heavy machinery.
The recommended steps featured in the guide include:
- Making sure that the protective equipment provided is adequate
- Supplying mobile facilities for warming up, as well as soup or hot drinks
- Allowing more frequent rest breaks
- Consider whether the work can be postponed until warmer weather in which workers’ safety will not be compromised
- Ensure that workers are able to recognize the symptoms of cold stress (such as a cough or body pain)
Seeking Professional Advice
If you are looking for an effective way to assess and manage the occupational health risks at your workplace, whether cold-related or otherwise, Healthscreen UK are here to support you! We offer specifically tailored advice in accordance with the needs of your organisation, designed to keep you, your employees, and your business safe and compliant with regulations. Please feel free to contact us for more information, or click here to request a free, no-obligation quote!