Risks and safety tips for when it’s cold

Work health and safety warnings in relation to weather are often based on summer/hot temperature warnings. As we know, there are risks associated with hot weather, but in turn, cold weather carries it’s own set of risks. As we are square in the middle of winter, it is timely to have a think about cold-weather safety.

Extreme temperatures and weather-related issues can pose significant challenges, so taking proactive measures becomes crucial to ensuring the wellbeing of workers. We have provided some points below to assist in navigating the work health and safety obligations relating to these risks.

Why do we need to worry about cold weather?

Under the legislation, employers have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment for their employees. This obligation extends to addressing risks associated with cold weather conditions. Compliance with relevant acts and regulations such as the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 is important in creating a safer workplace and reducing the risk of injuries and accidents.

How do we know what risks exist relating to the weather?

Employers should conduct comprehensive risk assessments to identify potential hazards related to cold weather. These assessments should encompass factors such as low temperatures, wind chill, slippery surfaces, reduced visibility, and increased risk of accidents.

Risks to health include hypothermia, frostbite, development of long-term conditions such as arthritis and bronchitis (or aggravation of existing conditions), and physical injuries such as musculoskeletal injuries from slips/trips/falls. Employees who are cold/uncomfortable or working in cold conditions may experience low morale and psychosocial hazards may also arise.

By understanding these risks, appropriate control measures can be implemented to mitigate them effectively. When undertaking a risk assessment, it is essential to involve the workers who are doing work in the area/who perform the tasks being assessed.

What controls might we consider?

  1. Developing and Communicating Safety Policies and or Procedures: Developing a clear and comprehensive workplace health and safety policy that specifically addresses winter-related risks may be required if your risk assessment reveals that this specific hazard is a significant issue, alternatively, a business may wish to add cold-weather information into an existing policy or procedure. This document should include guidelines on protective clothing, safe work practices, appropriate breaks, and emergency procedures. Communicate this policy/document to all employees, ensuring they understand their responsibilities and the steps they need to take to protect themselves in cold weather conditions.

    If there is a Safe Work Procedure or Safe Work Method Statement in place for a task/activity, cold weather considerations and controls may be included in that document if relevant.

  1. Providing Adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Supplying suitable personal protective equipment is crucial during winter. Employees working outdoors or in cold environments should be provided with appropriate clothing, including insulated gloves, hats, thermal jackets, and high-visibility outerwear. Additionally, non-slip footwear and eye protection should be provided where necessary.

    Specific PPE must be provided for employees working in cold-rooms/freezers/storage areas (exactly what PPE should be discussed and agreed on with workers, however this generally consists of safety boots, gloves, head warming gear, thermal clothing and jacket.  Eye and face protection may also be required).

  1. Provide Competency-Based Training: Educate employees on the risks associated with working in cold weather conditions and the correct use of PPE. Training should cover topics such as recognising the signs of hypothermia and frostbite, safe work practices in cold environments, and emergency response procedures. Regular refresher courses can help reinforce knowledge and ensure employees remain vigilant.
  1. Scheduling Frequent Breaks: Working in cold weather can lead to reduced dexterity, concentration, and increased fatigue. Encourage employees to take regular breaks in heated areas to warm up, rest, and hydrate. Scheduling shorter shifts or rotating workers can also minimise exposure to extreme cold conditions.
  1. Addressing Slippery Surfaces: Icy or wet surfaces pose a significant risk during winter. Employers should establish procedures for regular inspection and de-icing of walkways, ramps, and work areas. Non-slip mats and appropriate signage should be installed to alert employees of potential hazards.
  1. Monitoring Working Conditions: Maintain regular monitoring of weather conditions and adjust work activities accordingly. Extreme weather events, such as storms or snowfall, may necessitate temporary work stoppages or rescheduling to ensure employee safety. Regular communication channels should be established to keep employees informed about any changes to work schedules.
  1. First Aid and Emergency Preparedness: Ensure that first aid kits are adequately stocked and easily accessible, particularly in cold weather work areas. Employees should be trained in first aid and emergency response procedures, including recognising and treating cold-related illnesses and injuries. Develop an emergency plan that outlines steps to be taken in the event of severe weather conditions or accidents.
  1. Encouraging Open Communication: Promote a culture of open communication between employers and employees regarding WHS concerns. Encourage workers to report hazards, near-misses, or health issues promptly. Actively address these concerns and provide feedback to demonstrate a commitment to worker well-being.

Summary

As winter arrives, safeguarding the health and safety of employees becomes paramount. By adhering to legislation, conducting risk assessments, providing appropriate training and PPE, and fostering open communication, employers can create a safe work environment and address cold-weather issues.

About Employment Innovations

Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, workplace safety, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.

 

Disclaimer

The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.

 

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