Health and Safety News

Occupational health and safety news and guidance

How to protect your employees in extreme weather

Photo shows farm land covered in snowWith the autumn progressing and winter well on its way, it’s time to make sure employees are aware of the risks that a turn in the weather can bring.

Any job has its risks but some are more inherently risky than others, such as scaffolding for instance. When harsh weather is combined with height and heavy or large tools and materials, a day at work can be anything but routine. In Britain, the cold, rain and wind increase the risk to employees in all sorts of professions, but we are not alone. Many professionals across the world face tough conditions as part of their normal working day including:


Not the people on the TV giving us the weather report after the news, the ones out there collecting data from the environment. When many of us would, of course, be driving away from an oncoming tornado or hurricane, professional meteorologists – often called “storm chasers” by the press - may be heading towards it. Their vehicles are outfitted with sophisticated recording equipment that can measure rainfall, wind speed and direction among other things, data which could be all important for predicting the likely path of a tornado and helping others to avoid being caught in it.

Olympian efforts

Daytime temperatures in Brazil of more than 38 degrees centigrade are not unusual and can be coupled with very high humidity. Workers building the Olympic park and refurbishing the 1950s built Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro have faced heat, humidity, height and the immovable deadlines of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

An oil rig in a raging sea

On an offshore oil rig, you are at the mercy of the sea and gale-force winds. A slip from an outboard walkway would mean certain death. Waves in the North Sea can easily reach 13 metres high on an average day, and that’s with or without the rain, hail, sleet, gales and snow. The tasks are hard and physical, and workers are isolated and very exposed to extreme weather. You or your employees probably don’t face anything quite as physically challenging on a daily basis, but that doesn’t mean you can afford to be naive about the very real risks of our own weather and climate.

As Richard Evens, Commercial Director at the British Safety Council, explains, “For outside workers, such as those in the construction or agricultural industry, the weather is a key risk factor. With the right training and advice, you can keep your employees safe and healthy, whatever the Great British weather throws at us.”

For a start, do ensure that your health and safety professional has an excellent standard of health and safety training and qualifications. Next, fully risk assess your sites, keep a close eye on weather forecasts and consider taking the following steps so you can avoid the issues associated with extreme conditions:

Cold weather

Slips and falls due to ice are a concern here, and the right footwear, salt and gritting can help keep sites safe. People working outside in cold and wet conditions may also require suitable protective clothing, such as waterproof jackets (in addition to clothing to keep them warm).

High winds

Wind and heavy rain can pose a risk to health and safety in environments such as construction sites. Site managers need to ensure that items such as ladders and rubble chutes are adequately secured so they cannot become loose and fall, posing a danger both to those using them and passing nearby. In some cases, such as during very high winds, it may be necessary to stop work altogether, and the site should be checked afterwards to ensure it is safe to resume work.

Sun and heat

In sunny and hot weather, the main dangers are skin damage from exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight, dehydration and heatstroke. Employers need to encourage their employees to work and take their breaks in the shade if possible, keep their skin covered up with suitable close-woven clothing, use a high-factor sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor of 15. Sunglasses will also help protect the eyes from sun damage and should be worn if it is safe to do so.  

Employees should also be reminded to drink plenty of water during work hours. Where caffeinated hot drinks are concerned, the NHS says, “If you are in good health then a moderate amount of coffee is not going to cause you any problems. But it is not recommended as your sole source of hydration as caffeine, unlike water, can cause side effects.”

Avoiding sunburn incidents is critical, but ongoing exposure to UVA and UVB rays from the sun should not be ignored. In fact, as the NHS reports, there is no such thing as a safe tan and cumulative exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays is a risk factor for skin cancer.

Preparation is the best protection

Construction sites and outdoor work comes with enough risks as it is, especially when heights, heavy machinery, materials and tools are involved. Add in extreme weather and they can become even riskier. So it really pays to make sure you and your employees are prepared with the relevant training, plans and protective equipment, whatever the weather.

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