Q&A: Don’t Fall Victim To The Mini-Beast from the East!

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05 Mar 2018

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Croner’s Health and Safety Helpline has seen a surge in cold weather queries. Here, Helpline Team Leader Stephen Thomas gives some key tips to keeping your workplace safe from the “Mini-Beast from the East”.

If it gets too cold should we close the office?

A number of employers have reported that their workplace is too cold, either through exposure to the elements e.g. warehouse docks or because heating systems have broken down. In some cases employees are refusing to work or demanding to be sent home. While there is no legal workplace minimum temperature specified in H&S law, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 do place a legal obligation on employers to ensure a ‘reasonable’ temperature in the workplace; the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends no less than 16°C for sedentary work or 13°C for strenuous physical work.

Should we send people home if the temperature falls below HSE guidelines?

It is not the case that workers must be sent home if the temperature goes below HSE’s guidelines but Employers do need to take a risk-based approach to managing the risks of exposure to cold. Workplace risk assessments will identify sensible and proportionate controls which should then be implemented and monitored in order to eliminate or reduce the risk of cold exposure. For instance, in an office environment it may be appropriate to encourage workers to dress warmly, provide local heating, allow regular breaks in warmer areas and give access to hot drinks. If a boiler has broken down, allowing workers to temporarily work from home wherever possible may be a better solution. If this is not an option and the risks cannot be managed then it may be the most proportionate response to send workers home. For workplaces that are regularly exposed to the outside such as warehouse docks or workplaces that are purposely kept cold such as cold stores, suitable risk controls include providing workers with thermal clothing rated to the temperatures that they are exposed as well as adequate supervision, staff rotation to limit exposure, regular ‘warm up’ breaks and access to hot drinks. Communication and consultation with employees is also key here; both in terms of letting them know where they stand regarding when it is appropriate not to attend the workplace or off-site premises and also in dealing with cold environments in the workplace.

Should we avoid clearing snow and ice on health & safety grounds?

It is a common myth that premises owners should not clear snow and ice in case someone slips and instigates a personal injury claim. The opposite is true; if the person in control of premises is aware of a hazard then they should take reasonable steps to resolve it and failure to do so may be seen as negligent. That said, the grain of truth in the myth is that poorly-implemented snow and ice clearance may also be seen as negligent and a breach of the criminal law duty of care. Persons in control of premises should make reasonable efforts to keep areas under their control safe and accessible, especially so if used by members of the public or vulnerable persons. This means properly clearing snow and gritting main pathways, car parks and other frequently-used communal areas. The situation should be closely monitored and, if it is not possible to ensure a safe environment, close off areas (or even the whole premises) as necessary.

Should we clear public footpaths?

In terms of public footpaths outside the workplace, again it is a myth that acting as a ‘good Samaritan’ by clearing snow and ice may encourage personal injury claims if someone slips, however it does need to be done properly. Local Authorities are responsible for gritting public highways. If you have a concern about immediate danger to workers or the public due to road conditions such as black ice then they should be contacted immediately. There is an online postcode checker for local gritting services which indicates which Authority is responsible: https://www.gov.uk/roads-council-will-grit.

Speak to an Expert

For further information regarding winter weather advice for employers, please contact our team of experts on 0808 145 3374.

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