Keeping Outdoor Workers Safe in Winter

In the UK, there are millions of people for whom working outside is part of their daily occupation. The most recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) Workforce Jobs by Industry report has recorded more than 2.3 million working in construction, over 359,000 in agriculture and more than 59,000 in mining and quarrying. Other roles such as utility services, HGV driving and hospitality can also involve working outdoors.

As temperatures continue to plummet and inclement weather sets in, companies are not going to let winter conditions dampen their productivity; however, in order to achieve this, it may be necessary to take certain precautions when working outdoors to ensure the safety of workers. Bunkabin has provided practical advice explaining the biggest pain points associated with working outdoors in winter and how to work around them.

Snow and storm-related disruptions

Severe snow or stormy weather can result in shutdowns and delays for projects that rely on outdoor labour. This can lead to companies having to pay staff for work that was not completed – or, alternatively, staff can end up missing out on pay due to not being able to reach their workplace.

To help reduce the disruption caused by severe snowy or stormy weather, employers should:

  • Plan around the possibility of winter disruption, and allow time for potential delays in the overall project schedule
  • Cover surfaces and equipment with protective plastic sheeting
  • Dig drainage ditches to prevent rainwater or melted snow from causing flooding or freezing
  • Reschedule tasks to work around foreseeable periods of bad weather
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  • Provide staff with the right clothing and protective equipment to carry on working safely through bad weather when possible

Shorter daylight hours

During winter, the earlier sunsets can make it harder to complete essential outdoor work, as the lack of light leads to reduced visibility and a potentially greater risk of accidents – especially when this darkness is combined with inclement weather conditions.

A work schedule should be developed that maximises the amount of work that can be completed during daylight hours. Also, investing in on-site lighting will allow staff to safely continue their work even after the sun has gone down.

Damage to infrastructure

Bad weather can have a lasting impact, even beyond the initial disruption – heavy rain or freezing temperatures can prevent work-related vehicles and machinery from functioning properly, while the accumulation of snow on structures that are still under construction can cause structural damage.

To help reduce the damage caused by winter weather, employers should:

  • Keep the most essential parts of the site’s infrastructure protected with plastic sheeting and drainage ditches
  • Thoroughly assess the functionality and safety of all on-site equipment and structures before and during the work
  • Clear away ice and snow before anyone tries to use them

Cold-related illnesses

Winter weather isn’t just a threat to productivity and profitability – it can exacerbate the health and safety risks inherent to working outdoors, and put staff members in real danger of injury. Businesses have a legal and moral responsibility to take every necessary precaution.

Even if every other aspect of the worksite is safe, staff remain at risk of cold-related illnesses when working in winter, with examples including cold stress, hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot and chilblains. The consequences can be serious if left unchecked.

To reduce the risk of workers developing a cold-related illness, you should:

  • Make sure staff are provided with the right clothing and equipment to protect them from the elements
  • Ensure everyone on-site is aware of the telltale symptoms of cold-related illnesses
  • Take steps to discourage people from trying to work through these symptoms
  • Plan working schedules to coincide with the warmest parts of the day
  • Give staff frequent breaks to help them warm up

By being aware of the most common risks and pain points associated with working outdoors in winter, your organisation can maintain productivity even during the coldest times of the year, while keeping your staff safe, motivated and happy!