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Protecting Workers in Wintry Conditions 

Protecting Workers in Wintry Conditions 
15 January 2024

As a northerly airflow brings cold arctic air and the potential for snow and ice to the UK, the Health and Safety Executive is urging employers to assess risks to their workers.

The Met Office has issued Yellow National Severe Weather Warnings to parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland for Monday 15 January, as well as predicting that snow will move inland over southern Scotland, northern England and southern parts of the UK later in the week. There is also a Cold-Health Alert in force, indicating that the health and social care sector is likely to be impacted with an increased risk of critical infrastructure failure.

Older age groups and those working outdoors for a significant period in low temperatures are particularly at risk during extreme weather events. 

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has basic guidelines and practical steps for protecting these workers:


Working Outside in the Cold


Firstly, the HSE recommends that only outdoor work which is absolutely necessary should be undertaken in extreme cold, and companies should consider delaying non-urgent work until warmer times of the year if appropriate.

If the work must go ahead, ensuring that adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is supplied, such as safety footwear specifically designed for cold weather, is also key. Clair Weston from PPE supplier uvex recommends looking for safety footwear with effective insulation, such as boots with fleece lining for extra warmth. She said: “Cold feet can cause physical discomfort and numbness. In extreme cases, prolonged exposure to cold can lead to frostbite, which can cause pain, tissue damage, and even long-term complications.”

Employees working outside should also have more frequent rest breaks, with access to a facility to warm up and take hot drink breaks.


Cold Stress – Knowing the Signs


All workers must be educated on the risks of cold stress, and the signs and symptoms. Cold stress can occur if the body is unable to maintain core temperature after exposure to cold. The main symptoms to look out for range from fatigue and shivering, and confusion to advanced signs such as skin discolouration, pupil dilation, and slowing pulse, which can lead to unconsciousness, coma and eventually fatality.

The HSE doesn’t provide guidance on cold stress, but several BSI standards can assist employers in related risk assessments, such as BS EN 511:2006 (Protective gloves against cold).

Picture: a photograph of a person wearing a grey woolly hat, and a scarf over their mouth. Snowflakes can be seen in the person's hair. Image Credit: Pexels

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 15 January 2024


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