Here in the UK, our temperate climate means that we have cycles of both cold and hot weather through the year. If your business employs outdoor workers, it’s incredibly important that you can adapt your operation to suit, so that your employees can work comfortably.
If you don’t take the time to plan for the risks involved with hot and cold conditions, it could end up having a serious impact on the health of your workforce. For instance, a 2015 study by the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety found that in the UK there were as many as five people per day being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer contracted due to sun exposure at work.
With this in mind, we’re going to take a look at some of the considerations you need to make when it comes to protecting your team during outdoor work. Read on to find out more.
Work during hot weather
If your business employs people to work outdoors, you will need to be wary of heat stress during the hot summer months. This occurs when our bodies aren’t able to control their internal temperature and can lead to effects like a loss of concentration, cramps, extreme thirst, fainting, exhaustion and, most severely, heat stroke.
The condition can be brought on and exacerbated by factors beyond the weather and temperature, including humidity, restrictive clothing, and increased work rate.
What should I do?
The first step to combatting heat stress is to carry out a risk assessment to identify the potential causes and how you can manage the level of risk, then you will need to put measures in place to ensure employee safety. The Health and Safety Executive has detailed guidance on how to carry out an assessment that you should refer to, as well as a heat stress checklist that will help you out.
There are a number of measures that are worth considering when it comes to managing the risks of heat stress. If you know that the weather on a specific day is going to be particularly hot, it might be worth rescheduling work to a time of day that will be cooler, or delaying the job altogether.
During work in hot weather, you will need to ensure more frequent breaks are taken by staff, preferably in shaded areas. You’ll need to ensure your team have access to cool drinking water and have the option of removing any heavy equipment that might be causing them to heat up.
Finally, you should ensure that your staff are trained to recognise the warning signs of heat stress and what to do about it — you can find further advice in this guide from the NHS.
Work during cold weather
Here in the UK, the weather can often fall below freezing, especially in the winter months. If you have staff carrying out work outdoors in cold conditions, you need to be aware of the risks around cold stress and how you can prevent them from becoming a problem.
Like heat stress, cold stress occurs when your body can’t regulate its temperature effectively, but at the lower end of the scale. Early signs can include shivering, teeth chattering, and a slowing down of activity, while more serious symptoms include frostbite and hypothermia, which can be life threatening.
There isn’t an exact law about the minimum working temperature, however, you should exercise caution when it’s below 10°C or a high wind speed (over 40mph).
What should I do?
Again, the first step to protecting your staff in cold outdoor environments is to carry out a risk assessment to identify and control threats to their health. Beyond that, there are no set laws or regulations that dictate what must be done, but there are quite a few measures you can put in place that will help to minimise risk.
You should make sure that your workforce is provided with suitable cold weather protective equipment for when they are outdoors. This could range from issuing basic essentials like base layers, fleeces, overcoats, and other thermal wear, to handing out specialist work gloves for handling extremely cold items or footwear with extra grip for icy surfaces.
Shopping at a specialist retailer, such as Zoro, will ensure you are investing in personal protective equipment (PPE) of a sufficient quality, and you should be able to ask them about which products are appropriate.
During work, make sure that your staff are able to take frequent breaks in a warm area (you may need to provide mobile facilities), and encourage them to drink warm drinks throughout their shift.
If the conditions get too cold, consider whether you can delay work to a time when the weather has improved. You should also take the time to provide training for your staff on the dangers of cold conditions, how to spot the symptoms of cold stress, and how to use any PPE.
Work during sun exposure
Alongside hot and cold conditions, there is also a risk to your staff from sun exposure if they’re working outdoors . It’s easy to associate this with warm and sunny weather, but the sun’s rays can pose a health risk at any time of the year and in any conditions, even on cloudy days.
If your staff are exposed to too much sun, it poses a major risk of causing damage to their skin, including sunburn, blistering, and premature ageing. A long term effect of overexposure is skin cancer, which is one of the most common forms of the disease.
What should I do?
Sun exposure should be covered in any risk assessment you do for outdoor work, which should help you identify hazards and plan ahead. If your staff will be working for long periods under the sun, you will need to provide the appropriate PPE for the job, such as headwear or suncapes that cover the neck and ears.
You should also offer staff an indoor or shaded area for them to take regular breaks, as well as a source of cold water to ensure they stay hydrated.
You should also look into providing skin protection products for your staff when they are on the job. Offering sunscreen and encouraging your staff to use it will make sure that they are protected, but you should ensure that any products are of a sufficiently high factor (at least SPF15).
Take our advice on board and you will be in a much better position to protect your staff when they are working outdoors in hot and cold conditions. You will be able to take the right steps to limit their exposure to direct sunlight as well.
Note that this article is not comprehensive, and you should always refer to the HSE’s guidance on temperature and skin damage for the latest advice.