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Winter warning – Workplace health and safety

Winter warning – Workplace health and safety (Last Updated On: May 27, 2015)

Winter is coming and that means cold weather, increased absenteeism and a new set of hazards and risks for your organisation. The challenge you have as an employer is how to manage and maintain a work environment without risks to the health and safety of your employees.

While there’s no need to stop work for the winter, there is a need to undertake The Risk Management Process.

According to St John Ambulance Australia, colds and flus cost Australian companies more than $7 billion in lost time each year. If we want to be really specific, that is 1,500,000 days of work. This winter you will experience a spike in sick days, are you prepared to manage sick leave entitlements?

It is important to note that staff who are sick at work can do more damage than good. Employees working with colds and flus are at an increased risk of a range of hazards like manual handling accidents, slips and falls.

Those workers who find themselves fit and healthy for work are faced with another dilemma.  Extra layers of clothing and gloves can make manual handling awkward. This can lead to additional strains resulting in soft tissue injuries. Wet weather can also result in slippery surfaces causing hazards.

If you are a person in control of a business or undertaking (PCBU) you have a legal duty to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the provision and maintenance of a work environment without risks to health and safety”. Seasonal patterns such as winter present a challenge to the way you manage health and safety.

The Risk Management Process identifies additional hazards and measures levels of risk to employees. Control measures should be considered in accordance with a hierarchy. This sets out that hazards should be eliminated where reasonably practicable or controlled by substation, isolation and/or engineering control measures. Lower order control measures such as administrative and personal protective equipment should be considered, in many cases with higher order controls.

Considering that the weather is generally out of the employers control, elimination of risk is usually unlikely, unless the outdoor work can be postponed to a more suitable day or can be undertaken in a temperature controlled environment.

Engineering control measures may include installing shade structures or installing heating or cooling in vehicle cabins and warehouses. Business owners can also implement administrative control measures which limit the time spent in cold, outdoor environments. By limiting particular tasks to hours of the day that are more suitable can also ensure the safety of your staff.

Adequate first aid arrangements need to be in place, such as a trained first aider and access to a first aid kit. Your seasonal risk assessment may identify that additional first aid supplies like a heat blanket or ice pack are required.

Workers can be buddied up to keep an eye on each other. In these situations it is important that each worker knows the signs and symptoms of heat/cold stress. Certain symptoms of heat stress, such as redness of the face may be identified by a buddy before other symptoms are recognised by the worker.

The addition of personal protective equipment (PPE) is likely to work well in combination with higher order control measures already taken. This may mean supplying light fabric and light coloured work wear in hot weather and a weather proof jacket and gloves in cold weather.

So with the right approach combined with the right tools, such as a health and safety manual, any business can adapt to changing work environments and still meet their legal obligations.

James Brown Employsure Worplace Health and Safety Consultant

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