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The winters are getting colder and it’s only going to get worse as climate change continues to wreak its havoc on the world. But while we are all surely putting a great deal of effort into keeping our homes warm and toasty this season, what about our workplaces? Temperature and weather can have a substantial effect on the level of workplace safety – particularly during the colder months.
Managing workplace temperatures is a responsibility of all employers that should be taken seriously. This relates not only to the “thermal comfort” of your employees (how hot or cold they feel) but the potential physical and mental damages that can occur as a result of cold temperatures.
You should consider:
The wind-chill factor – How the human body feels temperature. This is different from the actual air temperature and considers relative humidity, the strength of the wind, and heat loss. In weather forecasts, this will be displayed as a “feels like” temperature.
Body temperature – Workers are most at risk when temperatures are consistently below 10 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, they are at serious risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Icy conditions – When there are icy conditions at the workplace you have an increased risk of slips and falls. Ensure that workers are provided with waterproof safety footwear with decent grip and that every effort is made to de-ice the floor, where possible.
Increased risk of injury – Cold weather can also affect muscles and increase the risk of injury, as cold weather decreases the flexibility of our muscles. Encouraging employees to do short warm-up exercises every day could help here.
Layers – Asking your employees to layer up might seem like a sensible option but you must also ensure they are not wearing too many tight-fitting layers, as this can restrict movement. Ensure workers have the correct type of thermal clothing to wear that is loose-fitting and not too warm, as sweat can cause the body to cool even further.
Cold weather advice
- Where you can, try to keep the temperature at around 16°C for office work and 13°C for more strenuous work. These are optimum working temperatures for most people.
- Ensure that all heating systems have been fully tested and are not giving off dangerous or offensive fumes.
- Provide insulated flooring or special footwear where employees are expected to stand on cold surfaces for long periods.
- Rotate jobs to limit exposure to the cold and introduce flexible working patterns. This is particularly important for outdoor work.
- Use portable heaters in areas that cannot be reached by central heating systems.
- Allow all employees access to breaking times in heated areas to allow them to warm up between shifts.
- Always monitor the temperature and take drastic action if it falls to untenable levels.