The UK’s workplace regulator, the HSE, is reminding employers about the dangers of cold weather working.
As most of the UK has been under a severe weather warning for cold weather, we need to take stock on how this might be affecting employees.
What does the law say about cold weather working?
Taking a sensible approach to working in cold weather will certainly help. However, it’s important to know that there are reasonable legal limits that should be adhered to. The approved code of practice states that:
- The minimum legal temperature for working indoors is 16℃
- Or 13℃ if your work involves rigorous activity such as moving boxes in a warehouse
Cold weather working can affect employee health
If working temperatures are too cold for employees to work in, there can be serious repercussions. Cold weather working could worsen symptoms of pre-existing health conditions, especially if not carefully monitored. Maintaining reasonable working temperatures helps employees to stay alert and feeling well enough to complete their work. Because, harsh working conditions can have a detrimental effect on productivity levels.
For example, an employee with occupational lung disease would be more at risk than a healthy employee. Conditions like COPD and Asthma can be difficult to manage, and Increased exposure to cold weather is known to worsen symptoms of occupational lung disease such as:
- Chest pain
Exposure to prolonged periods of cold weather makes your most high-risk employees extremely vulnerable. Freezing temperatures can bring strong winds and dry air, which can make living with chronic lung conditions very uncomfortable. Furthermore, employees struggling with other chronic health conditions like arthritis will find this time of year very difficult also. And that’s without any employee with Hand Arm vibration syndrome! Hand Arm vibration syndrome (HAVS) can cause loss of sensation and blood flow to the fingers. And, cold weather can exacerbate the symptoms of HAVS. This means that its essential that you’re not expecting your workforce to work in less than desirable conditions.
This means that your responsibilities as an employer are more important than ever in this cold weather spell.
Managing high-risk employees
Let’s take into consideration the risks associated with the long term health problems that come with some high-risk job roles. If you have employees who are exposed to harmful substances or have an increased change of inhalation of dust or fumes, knowing when to start health surveillance is key.
Managing high-risk employees can be complex and time consuming. Long term health conditions can be made worse by adverse working conditions like the cold weather, and so it’s important to know which employees need extra support. What’s more, failure to manage occupational health conditions could land you in hot water with the HSE!
And it’s not just fines you need to worry about! The HSE is part way through their winter campaign, the focus being occupational lung diseases. So, the cold weather might have decreased your chances of being compliant, unless you have some of the following compliance in place already:
- Occupational Exposure Monitoring – Measuring the amount of harmful substances in the air so that you can demonstrate you have the right tools to safeguard employees
- Hand Arm Vibration Assessments– Very important when high-risk employees are also exposed to the elements!
- COSHH – You don’t want to find out you have been storing harmful substances incorrectly when something freezes and bursts
- Occupational Health surveillance – Absolutely necessary in high-risk job roles. Need we say more?
So, what next?
Well, that depends on how confident you are that your compliance will hold up against the HSE’s thorough scrutiny? And, whether you outsource your workplace compliance to Safety First Group, of course (wink, wink).
We’ve seen a lot of customers who have overlooked extreme temperatures affecting their compliance. And that’s why we are here to help.
The HSE expects employers to operate with reasonable temperatures and working conditions. Thankfully, Safety First Group have the experience and knowledge to support your business with UK regulation compliance.