Working in cold temperatures? Your rights, the law and how to claim compensation if you’ve been mistreated
The law says your employer must protect you from cold weather exposure. If they fail, and you’re injured in an accident, support is available.
Working outdoors has its hazards, even in the best of weather. But if you’re doing your job in the wind, rain, storms and floods we’ve been experiencing – the dangers increase considerably.
The law says your employer must take extra precautions to keep you from harm, whatever the weather. If they fail, and you’re injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault – you’re entitled to claim compensation.
Your employer’s duty of care
Official Health and Safety regulations outline every employer’s ‘duty of care’ towards its workforce. It means they have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure your safety – including protecting you from extreme weather conditions.
These responsibilities cover where and when you work, the clothes and equipment you’re provided with, and the training you’re given in advance.
The key factors:
Is it really necessary to carry out the work in cold weather conditions? If not, the work should be postponed, for completion under more favourable conditions.
A risk assessment should precede any outdoor work where bad weather may be a factor. As well as the possible impact of rain, snow and ice during low temperatures – consideration should be given to the ‘wind chill factor’.
All workers should receive adequate training in the use of all machinery and equipment required to carry out their duties.
Clothing and equipment
Your employer is required to provide you with clothing that offers protection from any equipment and tools you use – as well as from the cold.
Facilities and breaks
If you’re left outside for extended periods, you’re more likely to succumb to the cold. So the workforce should be provided with a warm place (such as a porta cabin) in which to spend frequent rest breaks, with hot drinks to avoid dehydration.
Signs and symptoms to watch out for
Cold stress covers conditions ranging in seriousness, and includes chilblains, frostbite and hypothermia. If yo uspot any of these symptoms, talk to your employer or a GP as soon as possible.
Chilblains are permanent damage to the capillary beds from repeated exposure to cold.
Symptoms: Cheeks, ears, fingers and toes are typically at risk, and symptoms include redness and itching.
Treatment: If you’re affected, gently warm the skin (not close to strong heat) and avoid scratching. Use anti-inflammatory cream to reduce the itch.
Frostbite occurs if your skin reaches minus one degrees centigrade, which it can in higher air temperatures if you’re handling frozen foods, metal, or are wet.
Symptoms: It commonly affects the nose, ears, fingers and toes, and symptoms include numbness and paleness.
Treatment: Warm any sufferer gently indoors. Do not put them close to a fire or heater, as that can make the damage worse.
Hypothermia is very serious, and occurs when body temperature falls too low. Early symptoms include fatigue, shivering, loss of coordination and confusion.
Symptoms: More severe symptoms see the shivering stop, with blue skin, dilated pupils, slow pulse /breathing and then unconsciousness.
Treatment: Victims must be taken somewhere warm and dry, have wet clothing removed, and be warmed from the central body first – chest, neck, head and groin. Warm drinks are fine, make sure you call an ambulance.
Cold Weather Advice
- Too cold at work?
- Is dog walking safe in the snow?
- What are snow drifts?
- How does snow form?
- Too cold for school?
- What does red weather warning mean?
- What to do when pipes are frozen
- Day off rights if kids’ school’s closes
Are you working safely outside?
If you believe you’ve suffered a cold-weather injury due to a failure in your employer’s duty of care – you could be entitled to seek compensation.