Although British Winters aren’t famous for heavy snow, inclement weather is still likely, from heavy frosts to cold winds which can introduce a whole range of new and additional risks into an already high-risk environment. It is essential that these risks be dealt with, and clients and principal contractors must take positive action to keep people on site safe during spells of cold weather.
There is no minimum temperature stipulated for outdoor working but the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess the risk to health and safety of their employees arising out of their work activity. Employers should carry out thermal risk assessments for all outdoor activities and workers are particularly at risk from cold when:
- The ambient temperature is below 10°C.
- When the air temperature is 10°C, and the wind speed is 20 miles per hour, the effective temperature, so far as the body is concerned, drops to 0°C.
- A temperature of about -1°C drops to about -9°C with a wind speed of 10 miles per hour.
Accident statistics prove that there is an increased risk of personal injury during the winter months and additional hazards of winter working are introduced by reduced daylight hours and inclement weather. Roofers must also be made aware of and understand the hazards which can overtake them whenever work is attempted or continued in windy conditions. This applies particularly when working upon industrial buildings where large sheeting materials are being handled.
The risks are increased considerably when gusts occur during periods of high average wind speeds. Edge protection provides very little security when the roofer is being carried away by a ‘flying’ roof sheet. A sheet in a high wind can be as out of control and as dangerous as a car on a slippery road. The NFRC’s ‘Roofing and Cladding in Windy Conditions’ guidance document should be referred to and wind speeds should be measured and recorded in order to help assess dangerous windy conditions. Additional hazards caused by winter weather conditions include:
- Workers with cardiovascular problems, respiratory diseases or on certain medication need to be especially careful in cold temperatures.
- Nose and ears, fingers and toes are most likely to be affected by the cold, with the first symptoms often manifested as chilblains (itchy swellings on the skin).
- Employees may suffer from more colds, attacks of bronchitis and asthma, or painful, stiff joints and fatigue as they use more energy in an attempt to keep warm.
- Cold workers are also more likely to develop hand-arm vibration syndrome when using pneumatic or vibrating tools.
- There is evidence that cold weather conditions can affect manual handling operations.
Workers should be aware of the potential for unexpected hazards due to the weather conditions, for example, layers of ice can form as the environmental temperature drops, making surfaces even more slippery and the likelihood of slips, trips and falls increases in winter so it is important to take the following steps:
- Car parks, access roads and pedestrian walkways should be kept clear as practicable.
- Clean the ice and snow off the soles of your boots to and from access areas and work platforms.
- Use sand, salt, or other de-icing material. (Ice often forms on the underside of scaffold boards, so don’t just turn them over.)
- When working at height, be extra careful in the morning since there may be new frost and snow.
- Snow covered roofs can hide hazards such as skylights that workers can fall through.
- Watch your footing. Roof surfaces may be clear in sunny areas but icy in the shade.
- Do not be tempted to take shortcuts – keep to designated routes and report it if these need gritting.
Protective clothing is needed when work is expected to be carried out in cold weather. Proper clothing should be selected to suit temperature, conditions, duration of the activity and place where the job will take place, this includes:
- Wearing the appropriate footwear for the conditions.
- Persons working outside should wrap up warmly. Several layers of clothing are more effective than a single heavy layer. However, it is important that any additional clothing does not obscure high visibility waistcoats or jackets.
- It is even more important during hours of darkness or reduced visibility to wear reflective jackets or waistcoats that are reasonably clean.
- Wear gloves, as well as a hat or other head covering that can fit under a hard hat.
- Wear one pair of thick socks or two pairs of thin socks.
Other tips for working outside include:
- Always dressing properly for cold weather.
- Putting on warm clothes before you go outside.
- Carrying extra dry clothing if you are likely to get wet.
- Keeping your skin dry. Wet skin freezes quicker than dry skin.
- Drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
- If possible, do outdoor work during the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid sitting still outdoors for long periods of time.
- Taking adequate breaks from the cold.
- Do not touch metal or wear metal jewellery outdoors in the cold.
- Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and too much coffee and other drinks with caffeine.
- Staying in good physical shape.