Working Outside in Winter: Staying Safe

Working outside can have a real impact on an employee’s health – both in summer and winter.

When your job means you’re outside in the cold weather, you could be more at risk of an accident or an illness because of the challenges it presents.

But there are things your employer should do to keep you healthy. Knowing your rights and what you’re entitled to at work are important to keep you safe.

Winter hazards

Winter brings unique hazards. Although summer can threaten employee health through rising temperatures and associated problems like heatstroke and dehydration, winter keeps people on their toes in other ways.

Slipping is one of the most common ways of injuring yourself in winter. The cold temperatures mean frost and ice are common, while some of the highest monthly rainfalls have been recorded in colder months over the last few years. These environmental hazards can’t be stopped and the results can be difficult to minimise.

Inside, the minimum legal temperature for workers is 16°C – or 13°C if the work is physical. But there is no legal minimum for those working outside. This means you might still be expected to work when the temperature drops to freezing or below.

When temperatures are particularly low, you might find it more difficult to move normally. You could become clumsy, meaning mistakes are more likely. And when mistakes happen, injuries often aren’t far behind.

Dangerous workplaces

Some workplaces are more dangerous than others all through the year. Construction and farming usually see the highest number of accidents and deaths at work. And because a lot of the work in these sectors is done outside, workers are more likely to be affected by cold weather.

When climbing – on ladders, scaffolding or exposed staircases – is a part of your role, you could be at more risk than others. You might find that these surfaces freeze over quicker than the ground, making it dangerous to climb up and down.

This kind of work is extremely common in construction, making it a particularly dangerous industry when the weather turns cold.

It’s also important for machinery and vehicles to be properly maintained. If they aren’t, cold weather could cause them to malfunction and potentially hurt someone. This is more likely to affect outdoor machinery, meaning construction and agriculture again present more risks.

What your employer must do

Your employer is legally supposed to keep you as safe as possible within reason. Part of their responsibilities are carrying out risk assessments.

Risk assessments are necessary to identify hazards and put measures in place to stop them causing injuries to workers. The Health and Safety Executive sets out what employers are required to do to keep workers safe under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999:

  • Identify what could cause injury or illness in your business (hazards)
  • Decide how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • Take action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, control the risk

This means that if you work outside in winter, your employer should:

  • Provide facilities to warm up in
  • Encourage frequent drinking of hot drinks
  • Ensure the appropriate PPE is provided
  • Allow more frequent breaks
  • Educate workers about recognising cold stress
  • Consider delaying the work until the temperature has risen

Your employer can also try to minimise the risks presented by cold weather by gritting walkways to reduce the risk of slipping, allowing workers more time to get accustomed to working in the cold and structuring work so sitting or standing for long periods is avoided.

After an accident

If you’ve had an accident that was caused by your employer’s negligence – as a result of the cold weather or not – you could be able to take action against them.

Although this may sound intimidating, you have legal protection – meaning that you can’t lose your job for making a claim. And choosing an expert team to manage your claim can keep it straightforward and stress-free.

Get in touch to find out how First4Lawyers can help you claim the compensation you could be entitled to.


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