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September 25, 2015

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Winter is coming but is your business ready?

branch-437501_640By Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot

With winter fast approaching, business owners should be reminded of their responsibility to protect workers against the cold in order to reduce the risk of workplace incidents and sickness absence.

It’s important that employers do not overlook the measures required to protect staff wellbeing in the winter and the role they can play in maintaining a motivated and productive workforce.

For employers where business operations predominantly take place outdoors – such as the construction or logistics industries – employees are constantly at the mercy of the elements. It is therefore important that the workwear provided to staff is not only warm, but is as unrestrictive as possible.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that where there is a risk posed to employee safety by a particular duty, suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) should always be provided. While many employers are well aware of this, some still fail to appreciate their legal obligation to provide suitable garments, gloves, foot and headwear to staff working in potentially dangerous settings.

For those employers that are still failing to recognise their duties, now is the time to consider the PPE that will keep staff safe as well as warm, and ensure they’re provided with the right solutions before the cold snap starts. The ability to plan ahead in this way is also eased by working with providers that can offer essential advice and consultation over and above the provision of workwear.

For those working indoors during winter, the HSE’s Approved Code of Practice suggests that the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees celsius. Although this only acts as a guide, it is important to remember the employer has a duty to provide reasonable comfort and implement regular checks of both the heating control and pipe insulation.

Some of the most common risks posed in an office-based environment during the winter include maintenance related issues. A burst pipe for example naturally creates a safety risk and could lead to a business premises having to close for a prolonged period. The loss in productivity this can cause should therefore be mitigated against through the checks outlined above, but also through contingency planning around the steps to take if this does occur, implemented by either the health and safety or facilities management (FM) department.

Last minute issues such as poor weather or a breakdown in the heating system can mean that office-based staff are required to work remotely at a moment’s notice. Now, more than ever, office-based workers are being given the option to work remotely. According to recruitment firm Robert Half, the amount of UK employees taking advantage of flexible working has increased by more than a third over the past three years.

Flexible working can offer a major advantage for companies and provide staff with greater flexibility whilst also increasing productivity levels in the process. For example, if employees become ill as a result of substandard heating or having to fight their way through bad weather to reach the workplace, they can still complete work on-time and to a high standard.

Businesses should therefore set out a clear remote working policy that allows staff the option to work from home. Of course, the IT capabilities and permission processes need to be in place before this can happen, so with winter just around the corner, there is still some time to put the parameters in place to facilitate remote working.

Winter proofing a business of any type should not be a laborious process, especially if initiated in good time. Employers have a responsibility to provide warm and safe surroundings, attire and working practices for staff. Many companies are doing more than enough to address this already. However, even where robust systems are in place for managing the effects of winter, failing to take action now could leave employers back tracking to ensure all the essentials have been addressed.

Nigel Crunden is a business specialist at Office Depot

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