Winter Risk Management Tips

29th November 2021

In preparation for the cold weather, The S2 Partnership has outlined some practical advice on dealing with seasonal changes which can present new risks. Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean there is more potential for accidents to happen and as such your risk assessment processes should include addressing seasonal and climatic conditions.

Ventilation & COVID-19: Whilst closing windows opposes guidance surrounding COVID-19, there are steps to be taken to ensure offices are ventilated whilst not becoming too cold. Partially opening windows and doors, or opening windows on higher up levels can still provide adequate ventilation whilst creating fewer drafts. If occupied rooms require natural ventilation, airing them fully during breaks for around 10 minutes per hour can be enough, and if employees are cold, try relaxing the dress code or turning up the heating to allow for more comfort whilst maintaining appropriate ventilation.

S2 also provides COVID-19 Risk Assessments if your organisation is yet to complete one. As part of the safe remobilising of workplaces, it is important that risk assessments are completed to ensure appropriate control measures are in place to minimise risk.

Roof Safety: Higher speed winds are often associated with winter weather so all loose items on roofs, facades, general external areas, and susceptible trees need to be assessed to prevent them from being turned into windblown debris. It is also important to ensure that gutters are clear and free from debris, and that roof lights are clean and in good condition.

Working on roof areas is a high-risk activity, especially during the autumn and winter months. Therefore, a roof safety inspection must first be carried out to assess the associated hazards and risks and all activities should be carried out under a permit to work. Guidance on roof work can be found in several HSE documents including INDG284 (Working on Roofs), HSG33 (Health and Safety in Roof Work), and WAHR2005 (Work at Height Regulations).

Low Light: Even in the daytime, low lighting conditions can present an increased safety and security risk. Confirm that lighting is functional and sufficient for those on-site to see clearly and avoid any potential hazards that may be present.

Snow & Ice: Some areas are particularly prone to the effects of snow and ice; this includes building entrances, car parks, pedestrian walkways, sloped areas, and areas constantly in the shade or wet. It is important to identify any areas used by pedestrians and vehicles; assess the risks; monitor weather forecasts and act whenever freezing temperatures or snow are expected.

The most common method used to de-ice surfaces is gritting, such procedures should be in place wherever your risk assessment has identified high-risk areas. Also, be mindful of the presence of icicles hanging over pavements, roads, or parking areas, as these can also pose a threat to pedestrians and vehicles. Steps should be taken to remove these where possible.

Slippery Surfaces: During wet weather, slip risks are a particular hazard at entrances to buildings and shopping centers. A simple slip test can help review the slip resistance of flooring and ascertain what additional measures should be taken to prevent slip accidents.

The accumulation of leaves, moss, and other vegetation on pathways can increase the risk of slips. Procedures should be in place to prevent slippery surfaces from forming where possible, this includes removing vegetation and carrying out cleaning at regular intervals. Where the slip risk cannot be reduced to a tolerable level, it is important to warn pedestrians and drivers of any such hazards, redirect them to less slippery walkways, and separate off existing ones using signage and/or barriers.

Freezing Water: Cold weather can cause water from pipes and drains to freeze, causing blockages; assess the risks at your site and take preventative action. Where units are vacant and background heating is not maintained, water systems should be drained down to prevent freezing and bursting. Water pipes exposed to external temperatures should be adequately lagged or fitted with trace heating.

Commercial Waste Containers: In recent winters, an increasing number of deaths have occurred because of people sleeping in waste containers due to the cold conditions. Such persons can be killed by being accidentally crushed by waste collection compactors. This risk can be minimised by storing containers in a secure location, locking them, and checking for signs of activity in the vicinity.

Contractor Management: This is important at all times of the year, but during winter, extra care and attention should be taken if contractors are carrying out works externally in inclement conditions. Risk assessments and method statements provided by contractors must be reviewed to ensure they encompass seasonal risks, where relevant.

Winter Cooling Tower Shutdown: In winter, there is no, or very low, demand for cooling in many buildings, and cooling towers can remain idle increasing the risk of stagnation and microbiological growth. By shutting down cooling towers which are not required over the winter, significant water, energy, and chemical cost savings can be achieved for building operators and tenants.

Following a suitable water treatment program and operating procedures ensure that your cooling tower is shut down correctly, helping to prevent the formation of iron chips and biofilm, protecting it over the winter, and facilitating a smoother, trouble-free start-up the following spring. Contact us for a sample water treatment program shutdown procedure. All cooling towers differ, so it is advisable to seek professional help before undertaking any works relating to cooling tower systems.

If you would like expert guidance or support on any of the issues detailed above, please contact our specialist teams – we’re always happy to help.