Working Outside in Winter: Staying Safe

Working outdoors means you’ll often be exposed to the hottest and coldest of British weather.

And when your job involves being outside in cold temperatures, you could be at a higher risk of an accident or illness because of the extra challenges presented.

But it is your employer’s responsibility to take steps to protect you and your colleagues. Knowing your rights and what you’re entitled to at work during the winter months can help to keep you safe.

Risks to outdoor workers in winter

Winter can bring unique hazards to working environments, especially when the work is taking place outside.

Although summer can threaten employee health through rising temperatures and associated problems like heatstroke and dehydration, winter keeps people on their toes in other ways.

Some of the dangers of outdoor working in cold temperatures include:

  • Cold stress

If your skin becomes too cold, it could also drive down your internal body temperature. When this happens, the body struggles to get itself warm and serious tissue damage can occur. Hypothermia, trenchfoot and frostbite are all types of cold stress.

Cold weather can cause machinery and vehicles to malfunction if they’re not properly checked and maintained. In the worst cases, using unsafe equipment can lead to employees suffering serious or even fatal injuries.

  • Lower visibility

As the days get shorter, the risk of accidents increases as it becomes more difficult for employees to see during the dark evenings. Lighting and high-visibility clothing should be provided for employees to manage this risk.

30% of non-fatal workplace injuries are caused by slips, trips and falls. This danger can be made even greater when surfaces become slippery with rain and ice in the colder months.

Although environmental factors can’t be helped, your employer should have certain measures in place to minimise the effects of the cold weather on your wellbeing.

Can my employer make me work outside in the cold?

Inside, the minimum legal temperature for workers is 16°C – or 13°C if the work is physical. But there is no legally recognised minimum temperature for those working outside. This means you may still be expected to work when the temperature drops to freezing or below.

If you’re struggling to work because of cold temperatures, it’s important that you pass your concerns on to your employer. They have a duty of care towards you, meaning it's their responsibility to provide you with protection from adverse weather conditions.

The Health and Safety Executive sets out the measures employers should take to protect employees working outside in cold weather. These include:

  • Allowing more frequent breaks
  • Considering delaying work until the temperature has risen
  • Educating workers about the signs of cold stress
  • Encouraging frequent drinking of hot drinks
  • Ensuring appropriate personal protective equipment is provided
  • Providing facilities to heat up in

Your employer can also try to minimise the risks presented by cold weather by gritting walkways to reduce the risk of slipping and allowing workers more time to get accustomed to working in the cold. They should also consider structuring the working day so that sitting or standing for long periods is avoided.

Importance of risk assessments

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, your employer must carry out regular risk assessments to identify potential hazards in the workplace. This process should involve:

  • Identifying what could cause injury or illness in your workplace (hazards)
  • Deciding how likely it is that someone could be harmed and how seriously (the risk)
  • Taking action to eliminate the hazard, or if this isn’t possible, to control the risk

As the weather gets colder, it’s likely that new potential hazards will appear in the workplace – especially if you’re working outside. It’s your employer’s responsibility to acknowledge these and take reasonable steps to ensure your safety.

After an accident

If you’ve suffered an accident whilst working outdoors, and you believe your employer didn’t do enough to keep you safe, you could be able to take action against them.

Making a claim could be the first step towards accessing vital support and compensation. If your case is successful, your settlement amount will consider the pain and suffering you’ve endured as well as any financial losses – including reduced earnings and the cost of medical treatment.

We know that starting the claims process can feel daunting, but you have legal protection – meaning you can’t lose your job for making a claim. And choosing an expert team to manage your claim can keep the process straightforward and stress-free.

Get in touch with our friendly advisors to find out how First4Lawyers can help you claim the compensation you could be entitled to.


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