Winter weather can bring about a host of unique challenges for you and your employees. You need to consider your employees’ safety, potential company liabilities, attendance and pay-related issues. It’s important to be prepared for all scenarios associated with inclement weather before it arrives and to make sure employees are properly informed of all relevant policies and procedures.
Employee Safety is a Priority
Your biggest concern should be the safety of your employees. This is especially important for any job in which employees work outside or are exposed to the elements throughout the day.
Dangers of Working in the Cold
Working in the extreme cold can be dangerous for employees, and precipitation and wind exacerbate that danger. Cold stress can lead to tissue damage, hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot—conditions that can cause serious injury or death. Factors that contribute to cold stress are cold air temperatures, high velocity air movement, dampness of the air and contact with cold water or surfaces. Therefore, it is important to remember that even temperatures of 10 degrees Celsius, with enough rain and wind, can cause cold stress.
Staying Safe Outside
There are several precautions that employees should take while working in cold or dangerous weather:
- Take breaks to get warm.
- Drink plenty of liquids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Avoid smoking, which constricts blood flow to skin.
- Be aware of any cold weather-related side effects that medication may have.
- Know and understand symptoms of cold-related illnesses and injuries.
- Stretch before physical work to prevent muscle pulls and injuries.
- Wear protective clothing:
- At least three layers—a layer close to the skin to wick moisture away, an insulation layer and an outer wind and waterproof layer.
- Outer layers should be loose to allow ventilation and prevent overheating.
- A hat in addition to required head protection, insulated boots and gloves: Not only can the cold cause injuries to exposed skin, but cold hands also make workers more prone to injury when handling machinery or other objects.
Winter weather can cause unusual conditions and higher risks, so it is important to train employees on safety procedures. They should understand the dangers of exposed skin, insufficient protective wear and cold/wet/slippery equipment. Employees also should be trained to recognise and treat cold-weather illnesses and injuries.
Driving Company Vehicles
Another concern regarding winter weather is employees who drive a company car or vehicle as part of their working day. Driving in severe weather can be extremely dangerous, so it is important to take precautions. All vehicles should be given a safety check by a mechanic before the bad weather hits, and they should also be equipped with emergency materials such as a snow scraper, blanket, first aid kit and torch. Vehicles not equipped to drive in snowy or icy conditions, such as golf buggies, should be stored away with no employee access during the winter months.
In order to protect your company against liability, any employees who may drive in bad weather on company time, regardless of whether they drive a company-owned or personal vehicle, should be trained in safe, cautious driving techniques and what to do in case of an accident.
All of these cold and inclement weather provisions should be included in your safety plan and discussed before and during the onset of such weather.
Prepare Yourself and Your Employees
Employees should be informed of your company policies related to inclement weather—safety, attendance and pay-related. You should have an established communication method to inform your employees of a business closing or delay. When bad weather is coming, address all your policies again, remind employees of communication channels to address attendance and plan for the worst potential outcome to ensure your company is prepared for the weather.