Lone Working in Winter – How to Keep Your Staff Safe

With the cold weather, short days and slippery surfaces, winter can be a tough time for everyone. However, it’s particularly tough on those lone workers who are exposed to it all but expected to battle through the conditions and get the job done. As employers have a legal responsibility to these employees, we thought it would be a good idea to examine how best to keep your staff safe through the winter months.

  1. Winter means cold weather

As winter closes in, temperatures drop and outside work becomes considerably more difficult. Not only is there a risk of hypothermia for those who aren’t adequately equipped but employees are also more easily fatigued and the danger of mistakes or accidents occurring increases. To help keep your staff safe from the cold conditions, consider the following;

  • Ensure all your employees are provided with all necessary equipment. This will include warming workwear, such as gloves and jackets, as well as high-vis protective equipment for the shorter days. Employees should be encouraged to wear sweat-wicking base layers as damp clothing is a leading cause of hypothermia.
  • Provide employees with a warm place to break. If there isn’t an appropriate building, encourage them to take regular breaks indoors to revive themselves. Outdoors work should be limited on exceptionally cold days, if possible.
  • Emphasise the importance of eating well and drinking plenty of water. Proper nutrition can help keep your body temperature up.

  1. Fewer daylight hours

The shorter days bring their own set of risks, too. Less light means that many of the dangers associated with night work, such as aggressive crime and a sense of unease or worry in certain environments, are exacerbated. It also makes travelling more dangerous and limits visibility, putting lone workers at particular risk. This can be mitigated by;

  • Providing lone workers with a dedicated safety device that can be used to alert those responsible for the lone worker to a potential threat, danger or accident. In many cases, GPS functionality is a necessary feature for this kind of device.
  • Talking to your lone workers about how they feel. If they’re particularly uncomfortable in any situation, try and find an alternative arrangement. This may mean rescheduling certain activities for daylight hours, changing the route they take or providing them with a partner at specific times.
  • Ensuring high-vis equipment and clothing is provided to all lone workers.

  1. Ice, snow and slippery surfaces

As well as the cold, winter brings with it a whole host of challenging weather conditions. Ice and snow can make getting around and doing your job particularly difficult and dangerous. Considering slips and trips contribute to 33% of all major workplace injuries, it’s important that you put measures in place to minimise the chance of an accident taking place. However, it’s not just ice and snow. Torrential rain, gales and sleet can also play havoc with equipment and transport.

Consequently, employers should consider the following:

  • Ensure all equipment is well-maintained and tested before winter begins.
  • Provide employees with emergency kits to help them should their vehicle break down or they become stuck.
  • Emphasise the importance of good footwear for outdoor work and minimise the amount of time spent outside when conditions are unsuitable.

  1. Lone workers at a lonely time of year

As we’ve already discussed in previous articles, lone workers face more than just physical risks and threats. They’re also more prone to emotional and psychological issues due to the solitary nature of their work.

While shorter days and poorer weather can have a considerable effect on some individuals’ well-being, it’s also important to consider the emotional toll being lonely can have during the festive season. For this reason, employers should be aware of how their staff are doing during this period, schedule regular check-ins with lone workers and ensure efforts are made to include them in the wider team.

  1. General safeguards to minimise the risk to lone workers

There are also more general steps you can take to safeguard your lone workers. Below, we take a look at three of the most important.

Risk assessment

As the seasons change, all organisations should carry out a fresh risk assessment. This is because the risks your lone workers are exposed to change considerably depending on the time of year and likely weather. Carrying out risk assessments for each of your lone workers also ensures that you identify risks that are unique to specific individuals. You can read more about how to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment, here.

Safety devices

Though safety devices are a vital piece of technology all year round, they’re especially useful throughout the winter, when several key features truly shine. Devices like Inform’s Lone Worker Fob contain GPS functionality, so that supervisors and employers can accurately locate a lone worker should something go wrong. In poor weather conditions, when the cold can cause real problems, this is a potentially life-saving feature.

Likewise, our Shield Lone Worker Web App allows employees to log in and out of tasks, schedule check-in calls and keep supervisors up to date with their arrangements. This provides employers with the information they need to identify when something has gone wrong and to quickly establish the best course of action.

Regular check-ins

Finally, all employers and supervisors responsible for the safety of lone workers should be arranging regular check-ins with employees. Not only does this ensure the lone worker knows that someone is looking out for them, it provides them with an opportunity to air concerns that they may otherwise not express. Be it concerns regarding a particularly dangerous task or the psychological impact of working alone, employers have a duty of care to their lone workers and must be there to listen and act.

What Next?

Keeping lone workers safe during the winter months requires employers to examine the specific risks their staff face, implement policies that mitigate these risks and ensure staff are offered the equipment, information and support they need. This includes lone worker safety devices, such as the Shield Lone Worker Solution, as well as protective clothing and equipment and an employer who is willing to listen and act on employees’ concerns.

Have a question or want further information on improving lone worker safety? Talk to our expert team on 01344 595800 or drop us a line.