Snow day: the importance of winter PPE
Nigel Crunden, Office Depot, explains how best to protect outdoor workers in the winter months, supplying adequate winter PPE and and support to workers in the cold.
When cold weather strikes, cranking up the thermostat is not an option for workers operating outside and in unheated areas. In many sectors, work must continue despite adverse winter weather and employers owe a duty of care to their workforce to ensure that they are not working in unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Extremely cold environments could well fall into this category.
For businesses looking to make the most of their winter workforce, adequate PPE provision is a must, allowing staff to complete tasks to the best of their ability and continue the smooth running of the business.
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Act requires that all employers supply adequate PPE for workers, dependent on differing working conditions. Whilst this may sound simple, providing PPE which is fit for purpose and provides suitable protection against the cold requires a little more thought.
Employee engagement is often the key to successfully identifying the specific requirements for winter PPE and directly seeking suggestions from workers operating in colder environments can lead to the right solution being reached. Thick gloves, whilst helping to protect against the cold, are not normally a viable or workable option for engineers requiring high levels of dexterity to carry out their work.
Luckily, there are a number of further products available which are designed to provide suitable protection against the cold, whilst still allowing the operation of equipment, such as touch screens and mobile devices, and the completion of tasks requiring fine motor skills.
Whilst having cold hands can seriously hinder workers’ ability to carry out manual tasks, winter weather can also pose a major problem in other ways. As the temperature drops and walkways and outdoor surfaces become potentially hazardous, employers must make efforts to ensure working conditions are safe and that employees can move safely between buildings and work spaces, but also that workers’ feet are suitably protected from the cold. Providing sturdy work boots, which provide both warmth and grip, is an essential part of key winter PPE provision.
The effects of prolonged exposure to cold weather on the human body can be particularly serious, with hypothermia and frostbite on the extreme end of the spectrum. Protecting the health and wellbeing of employees should be the first priority for any organisation and cold weather conditions during the winter can make this especially challenging.
Adverse winter weather does not necessarily relate to the cold. The UK often experiences prolonged periods of wet weather and keeping employees dry, whilst also being able to continue working, is almost a year-round problem. Many types of worksite PPE address the issue of providing waterproof protection but fail to allow for the movement and ventilation required by many manual workers.
Breathability is a key property here, and the ability to stay warm and dry, without having to continually remove and put back on clothing as core body temperature changes, is a key consideration for not only the designers and distributors of PPE, but also procurement managers and facilities managers.
Very few people would say they truly enjoy working in cold weather and see it more often than not as a hindrance to the completion of their daily work. Employers have a duty of care to not only safeguard the wellbeing of their employees during the cold winter months, but also to ensure the smooth running of the business.
It is an age-old saying that the workforce is a business’ greatest asset and like any valued resource, employees must be looked after, especially in the depths of a cold winter.