Employer’s ‘duty of care’ in cold weather

When working for an employer, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that working conditions are safe and secure for employees. This is particularly important if the job entails working outside.  Official Health and Safety regulations dictate that employers must provide a ‘duty of care’ towards their staff, including providing adequate protective clothing and equipment. All steps must be taken to protect workers from carrying out duties in inclement weather and thorough training must be provided if equipment is involved.

Conditions must be ‘risk assessed’

When carrying out outside work, bad weather and extreme conditions must be ‘risk assessed’ and work postponed if at all possible. When considering weather conditions the impact of snow and ice must be assessed, and, of course, the wind chill factor.

If work must be carried out outside it is the responsibility of the employer to provide robust protective clothing and equipment, and shelter, such as a portacabin, should be provided to allow staff to have frequent breaks.  Hot drinks should be available as well as adequate toilet facilities.

It is important that the signs of hypothermia are recognised, and that outdoor workers are not developing chilblains, trench-foot and frostbite.  The body’s extremities, such as nose, ears, fingers, and toes are particularly susceptible to extreme cold when blood is not being drawn up to heat them.  It is important that thorough consideration be given to all aspects of the affects of cold weather on employees before it is carried out.

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