SAFETY ALERT: December 2017 | Staying Safe & Healthy During Winter

The British weather can be unpredictable at any time of year but winter can present additional challenges from the long drawn out nights, low morning or evening sun, freezing temperatures, ice and snow. There are not only obvious safety issues to consider when driving or working outside but also the effects that the dark winter months may have on the general morale of employees.

Vehicle Checks

Winter can bring difficult driving conditions therefore it is particularly important to maintain and check your vehicle to keep yourself and other road users safe. These few precautions will help to keep you safe in most conditions:

  • Windscreens and windows – allow extra time to defrost to keep clear and reduce glare
  • Keep washer fluid topped up with screen wash
  • Winter engine service –anti-freeze level, battery life, wipers in good order
  • Tyres – ensure at correct pressure and in good condition
  • Ensure lights are working and clear and rear reflectors are visible
  • Adequate fuel for the planned journey

The Journey

  • Postpone non-essential journeys in extreme weather
  • Use public transport where practicable to avoid driving altogether
  • Plan your journey taking account of weather forecast and stick to to main routes avoiding steep hills and ungritted minor roads
  • Avoid drinking and driving and consider the morning after
  • Adapt driving techniques to suit the conditions including reducing speed, heeding any warnings and leaving more space between other vehicles, brake smoothly, steer into skids and ease off the accelerator
  • Let people know your plans, the time you set off and expected arrival
  • Take out breakdown insurance and have the necessary details at hand

Survival Equipment

Should you find yourself caught in a snowdrift then always stay with your vehicle and don’t run the engine to keep warm. Keep the following items in the vehicle in case of an emergency:

  • De-icer and scraper to keeping windows clear
  • Blanket or extra clothes to keep warm
  • Strong shoes or wellingtons with heavy soles
  • Torch for darkness and attracting attention
  • First aid kit to treat any minor injuries
  • Shovel – handy for moving deep snow
  • A flask containing a hot drink or soup
  • Mobile phone with charger and cable

Working Outside

When working outside during the winter months, the weather can have a serious impact on a worker’s well-being if the risks are not recognised and managed. The following precautions should be considered:

  • Defer the work until the weather improves
  • Ensure appropriate personal protective equipment is provided and used
  • Provide a warm rest room with a means of making hot drinks
  • Consider job rotation or more frequent breaks

Changes in weather should also prompt a review and re-issue of any permits such as work at height, lifting and excavation.

Wellbeing and the Winter Blues

Many workers will experience a negative effect on their mental well-being during winter. Some will suffer from a type of depression know as SAD – ‘seasonal affective disorder’. This can become severe in the winter and can be exacerbated by stress. This is especially prevalent in office workers who have limited access to natural light and workers continually exposed to cold conditions. Improvement can only be achieved by engaging with workers to encourage them to improve their own work environment and conditions.

The following can decrease those winter blues:

  • Reconfigure office layout to maximise natural light
  • Encourage a brief lunchtime walk or exercise
  • Create comfortable social spaces for relaxing and interacting
  • Ensure the heating system is maintained
  • Tackle any underlying causes of stress

Colds and Flu Viruses

Winter tends to bring the misery of colds and flu into the workplace. Colds and flu are caused by different viruses with flu having more severe symptoms. The viruses are spread when people breathe in droplets that or coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. However, you can catch a cold or flu by touching an infected object or surface and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose. Your workforce can be protected by promoting these actions:

  • ‘Coughs and sneezes spread diseases’, use a tissue
  • Throw used tissues away as soon as possible
  • Frequent washing of hands with warm soapy water
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands
  • Tidy desk policy so cleaners can clean surfaces
  • Where appropriate consider having an annual flu jab
  • Stay at home if you have a cold or flu to protect other workers

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