Ten top tips to ensure the safety of employees during the summer months
School holidays are just around the corner, along with the hot weather (we hope). The traditional summer silly season will soon be upon us, but while we remain in the workplace, the hot weather does raise safety and wellness issues to consider, and highlights actions that need to be taken. Whether your staff are based indoors or outdoors, as an employer you will need to address various matters in order to ensure your employees remain safe, happy and productive.
What the law says
The laws covering summer weather issues are few and far between and not very specific, but there are some key points raised by health and safety bodies such as the HSE that are vital to address if you want to maintain employee safety and, therefore, keep on the right side of the law. For example:
- ensuring the temperature (indoors) is 'reasonable';
- providing protection from weather for outdoor workers;
- providing suitable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), whether hot or cold weather; and
- including weather conditions in risk assessments.
Top ten tips
1. Risk assessment
This will help you to identify hazards and problems, decide who is at risk, and evaluate whether more precautions need to be taken. The HSE gives the following advice on what specifically you need to look at in a risk assessment. The main factors are:
- Work rate – the harder someone works, the more body heat they generate.
- Working climate – this includes air temperature, humidity, air movement and effects of working near a heat source.
- Worker’s clothing and respiratory protective equipment.
- Worker’s age, build and medical factors – all may affect an individual’s tolerance.
As a key aspect of employment, health and safety training can incorporate several different issues. This provides the ideal opportunity to protect employees (particularly outdoor workers) during the summer by including in your training:
- advice for employees about the dangers of sun exposure;
- advice on the risks of heat stress;
- guidance on using sun protection; and
- guidance for workers on checking their skin regularly for any damage, for example changes to spots or moles.
3. Controlling air temperature
In an indoor work environment, looking at keeping temperature 'reasonable' is vital. Factors/measures you might want to consider are:
- air conditioning;
- use of fans; and
- effectiveness of opening / closing windows.
4. Advice on clothing
Clothing can be an issue for both indoor and outdoor workers. For indoor workers, keeping comfortable and cool is the main consideration, whereas for outdoor workers, employers need to look at protecting them from the sun by providing PPE and advising them to keep comfortably covered up. Issues such as the traditional dress code also need to be taken into consideration. Are you able to relax your dress code during the spell of hot weather?
5. Work rate
This includes points such as the amount of work and the time in which it has to be done, working hours (the amount of) and timing of work – scheduling to minimise exposure to the sun. These are all issues which could affect employee health during the summer.
Employees should be encouraged to keep hydrated to avoid overheating and heat stress. Employers could provide cool water supplies in the workplace and encourage employees to drink regularly, as well as advising employees to drink water rather than tea or coffee, both during working hours and at home.
7. Keeping food cool and fresh
If employees are bringing food into the work environment it is important that measures are taken to ensure that in hot conditions food is kept fresh and edible. This will protect employees from falling ill and needing time off due to an unhealthy diet.
8. Reducing the risks of heat stress
Ensure employees remain healthy and productive by controlling the workplace temperature. Employers should identify susceptible employees and address any issues before problems arise, and provide PPE where necessary.
9. Providing shade
For outdoor workers, encourage them to take their breaks in the shade, if possible, rather than staying out in the sun. Ensure that they are able to rest comfortably and drink supplied water in the shade.
10. Protect against allergies
Where possible, enable employees to avoid working in areas that will trigger their allergies. In high problem areas provide protective equipment such as safety glasses or masks.
Benefits to business
There is clearly a lot to consider with the summer approaching, but taking some of the steps highlighted above during this period will result in important and significant benefits to your business, including reduced risk to employees, which in turn means:
- better productivity;
- fewer absences; and
- more comfortable and happy employees.
Whatever happens this summer, come rain or shine, we hope you get a chance to enjoy it.