England might not be known for its snowfall, but when wind, rain, and cold are combined, ice is prevalent onsite. Snow and ice are not only hazardous because of the dangers of slips, trips, and falls, but also because the cold can cause numerous health problems when you haven’t prepared your workforce with appropriate PPE - think chilblains, cold stress, and hypothermia.
Does your business have a snow and ice policy in place? Although these conditions are rare in the British winter, any business with workers who work outside needs to have a snow and ice policy in place.
What is a snow and ice policy?
The Health and Safety Executive’s Approved Code of Practice L24 for the workplace notes that in snowy and icy conditions, in paragraph 96, that employers need to minimise the risks from snow and ice.
As with any health and safety assessment and policy, your business needs to plan for adverse weather conditions. Potential hazards need to be identified, and measures need to be taken to reduce those risks. You may decide that extra PPE will be needed to prepare for winter months in the form of more protective winter jackets in hi-vis, for example. The Health and Safety Act of 1974 notes that when it’s reasonable, employers have a duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of employees.
How you ensure that welfare is dependent on what is decided in your health and safety policy; however, if your health and safety policy does not include a snow and ice policy in which you provide measures to protect against the dangers in winter, then you need to update your policy.
Discuss conditions with your employees - the people who actually work in the conditions - and ask what they need to help keep them safe, warm, and protected from the elements.
One way to protect against snow and ice is to provide protective clothing. In winter and late autumn, workers need to wear layers with the outermost layer being waterproof. Your workers may want a bottom thermal layer, a long-sleeved sweat-wicking t-shirt, a fleece underlayer, and a warm, waterproof outer-layer in hi-vis. These layers can protect workers in all conditions. If it’s very cold, then layers can be added; if it warms up, layers can be removed.
Workers on site also need protective gloves in winter, warm hats that fit inside hard hats - if hard hats must be worn (purchase specialty gear for this purpose because ordinary hats will compromise the integrity of your hard hat if the fit is affected) - and scarves. Protective eyewear and ear muffs may also be used.
On foot, workers need to wear protective, warm shoes with woolly socks. The shoes must be slip-resistant to reduce risks. The Hospital Episode Statistics for England and Wales noted that in 2010 to 2011, there were over 15,000 people admitted to hospital from falling over in snow or ice. When people fall on snow and ice, it can not only break bones, but also cause internal bleeding and severe bruising, so it’s important that you keep workers safe in the cold.
When it’s cold outside, roadways may be blocked, ground may be covered with snow, pipes may freeze and burst, machinery may not work, and more, so there should be a policy in place that addresses - or at least gives workers an idea of - what to do if adverse conditions are in place - a hazard assessment specifically for weather conditions. Is someone in charge of snow ploughing or gritting? Do workers have to leave earlier to make sure roadways aren’t blocked? Put expectations in place.
The HSE’s Approved Code of Practice (mentioned earlier) also notes that minimising snow and ice risks may include gritting, clearing snow, closing routes, especially to outside stairs, ladders, and rooftop walkways as well.
Gritting should be done before snow falls preferably when the walkways could be damp, wet, or temperatures reach freezing or below. If heavy rainfall occurs, then grit can be washed away since it’s made of rock salt and if those conditions later turn icy, the walkways and roads will have to be re-gritted.
If conditions become too hazardous, work may need to be cancelled until conditions are safer. Identifying risks will help you update your snow and ice policy.
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