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Cold temperatures, heavy rain, snow, wind and ice are all staples of British winters. However, as the weather gets colder, the risk of work accidents rises, particularly for outdoor workers.
Outdoor workers from industries such as construction, agriculture, forestry, utilities, transportation and warehousing are more at risk from severe injury from slips and falls during icy winter conditions. Lorry driver and delivery drivers are also at risk from road traffic accidents in adverse weather conditions.
Here are some of the hazards outdoor workers face in wintry weather conditions:
Ice, snow, flooding and even wet leaves can create extremely slippery areas that pose a risk of serious slips and falls for outdoor workers. Black ice can be particularly treacherous.
Working with machinery and heavy equipment can be dangerous anytime, but during cold weather snaps, there is a serious risk of skidding on ice or snow. Extreme cold weather can also result in slippery steps and grip plates. If metal handrails are frozen, they can cause cold burns which rip off exposed skin.
On short, winter days or in snowy conditions, visibility can be poor. Workers operating heavy equipment and machinery may find that headlights are not enough to illuminate the site so that ground conditions can be seen properly, and any hazards identified. Workplaces should be well-lit, and workers should wear high-visibility clothing or vests.
Outdoor temperatures can’t be controlled, but the Health and Safety Executive recommends employers should ensure workers have proper protective equipment, access to hot drinks and take their rest breaks. It is also important employers recognise the symptoms of cold stress.
Workers who are outside for long periods are at risk of developing hypothermia if they are out in the cold for too long. It causes shivering, stumbling, confusion, slurred speech, slow breathing and loss of consciousness. It is a medical emergency that needs to be treated in the hospital.
Another risk is frostbite which happens when the skin (usually fingers, toes, earlobes and noses) has been exposed to freezing temperatures. It can permanently damage body tissues and in extreme cases, it can lead to amputation.
When working outdoors, wintry weather can have a serious impact on workers’ health and safety if the risks have not been properly assessed and managed.
The Health and Safety Executive offers the following simple actions employers can take to protect people working outdoors:
Your employer has a legal duty of care to keep you safe. They should maintain a high standard of health and safety, including carrying out risk assessments in potentially dangerous circumstances such as adverse weather conditions.
If your employer fails in their duty and you are seriously injured, for example after being made to work in dangerously icy weather conditions without the appropriate safety equipment, you may be able to claim work accident compensation.
“Employers need to be aware of their responsibilities to their workers, and we have seen too many cases where people have felt pressured into working in unsafe conditions and sustained serious injuries as a result of a cold weather work accident.
“Freezing conditions can make the workplace even more dangerous. While employers might argue that bad weather is beyond their control, if they haven’t carried out the necessary risk assessments and provided staff with adequate safety training and appropriate protection, in the eyes of the law, they could be negligent and you may be entitled to damages.”
If you have been injured in a work accident that wasn’t your fault, it is essential you seek specialist legal advice from an expert personal injury solicitor as soon as possible.
You only have 3 years from the date of your work accident or diagnosis of a work-related medical condition to make a compensation claim.
There are a few exceptions to the three-year limit that may apply. For example:
Novum Law’s specialist team of work accident solicitors are ready and available to support injured workers on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis.
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