Cold weather and the risk to outdoor workers

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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.

In the winter months the number of slip and trip accidents inevitably increases, but they can lead to serious injuries including broken bones, brain and head injuries and spinal injuries.

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.

Work accidents in cold weather

Here are some of the hazards outdoor workers face in wintry weather conditions:

  1. Falls on slippery surfaces

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.

  1. Accidents while operating machinery

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.

  1. Poor visibility

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.

  1. Exposure to extreme cold

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.

Cold weather safety tips for workers

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:

  • Ensure the personal protective equipment issued is appropriate
  • Provide mobile facilities for warming up, and soup or hot drinks
  • Introduce more frequent rest breaks
  • Consider delaying the work until warmer times of the year without compromising on safety
  • Make sure workers can recognise the early symptoms of cold stress, such as a cough or body aches

Making a compensation claim after a cold weather work accident

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.

Louise Gardner is a specialist personal injury solicitor from Novum Law’s Swindon team. She is experienced in dealing with work accident claims, and says:

“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.”

Don’t leave it too late to make a work accident claim

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:

  • If you are under 18 at the time of the accident, you have three years from your 18th birthday
  • If you are making a claim on behalf of a loved one who lacks mental capacity

Novum Law’s specialist team of work accident solicitors are ready and available to support injured workers on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis.

For a free, no-obligation chat about how Novum Law can help you with your workplace accident claim, call us on 0800 884 0777, email us at or complete our online form.

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