The second half of 2023 has been recorded as the wettest on record since 1890. In recent months much of England and Wales has been subject to heavy rain and flooding in the aftermath of storms. Since September 2023 there have been eight storms; the highest number in a season to be named by the Met Office.
Following torrential downpours, England and Wales now face a drop in temperature leading to already saturated land and floods becoming even more hazardous.
Whilst these extreme weathers conditions are inconvenient for many, they cause a significant risk for those having to work outdoors.
Plummeting temperatures and flooding are significant health and safety risks that must be carefully considered by employers when assessing conditions, policies and procedures and the impact on their workers.
Incidents at workplaces
Non-fatal injuries reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (known as RIDDOR) for 2022/2023 recorded 32% of incidents as slips, trips or falls – these are the most common incidents in the workplace.
Those who work in construction, agriculture, delivery, transport and factories are often most at risk of sustaining life-changing injuries whilst at work. These risks are only heightened during inclement weather.
Duties of employers
Employers have responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst at work. They should start with a risk assessment to spot possible health and safety hazards.
Employers should also provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), training on how to use that PPE, training on safe working practices and adequate supervision for employees working in the specific environment (including hazardous weather conditions).
The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 puts a duty on employers to provide their staff with free PPE and clothing. The Regulations were amended in 2022 by the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022.
These Regulations extended the duty of employers to include responsibility for “limb (b) workers”; workers who have a more casual employment relationship for example, those working irregularly for more than one employer and those who only carry out work offered if they chose to do so.
Risks of injury to outdoor workers
During the winter, when temperatures drop employees may be at increased risk of cold stress; a serious condition that occurs when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature. Frostbite to extremities is also a risk. Poor visibility as the number of daylight hours reduce also contributes to risk and likelihood of serious incidents and injury occurring.
Employers should be encouraged at all times, but specifically at this time of year, to ensure their risk assessments are reviewed and if necessary, updated. Practical steps employers can take to keep outdoor workers safe include:
- Ensure they have issued suitable PPE to limb (a) (those with a contract of employment) and limb (b) workers, including specific items for wet weather conditions. Damaged or perished items due to use in extreme conditions should also be replaced.
- Shelter from adverse weather conditions and frequent breaks should also be encouraged to reduce the amount of time working in adverse conditions which can increase the risk of cold stress, and associated slips, trips and falls.
- Health and safety training should be provided as well as training on PPE use and specific equipment which could become more challenging or involve more risk to health and safety during adverse weather.
- Adjustment of expectations; workers should not be expected to reach the same targets that one would expect during fine weather.
- To improve visibility, appropriate visual PPE, adequate lighting and high visibility clothing should be provided.