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The winter chill – the seasonal change affecting your business

As we bid farewell to the summer days, some may be welcoming the cool change while others may be mourning the loss and begrudging the switch from singlets and shorts to jumpers and jeans. Either way, the change of season brings with it a few items that you, as employers, should be aware of.

It is a fact that colder weather can cause an increase in absenteeism, potential tardiness, and for those working outdoors, increased health and safety concerns. You can however, plan for all the above by taking the time to prepare your business and your staff.

Winter sickness and seasonal affective disorder

A recent study conducted by BusinessNZ, found employee absenteeism costs New Zealand companies more than $1.26 billion each year, with workers taking 4.5 days off annually due to sickness.

So what can you do to prevent the spread of illness within your workplace?

  • Develop a personal leave policy to include the requirement for a medical certificate for each day of illness and introduce return to work meetings. These requirements may deter those taking sickies and give you an opportunity to discuss any serious illnesses with your employees.
  • Implement and complete a return to work interview to ensure you fully understand if your employee is fit for work upon return (as part of your health and safety obligations)
  • After the return to work interview if there are any concerns surrounding the employees’ health, suggest the employee consult a medical expert before commencing work
  • Ensure hygiene within the office is of the highest level to prevent the spread of illness. Provide tissues and hand sanitiser around the workplace for employees to utilise as they see fit.

Health and safety issues in the winter months.

Apart from the associated spread of germs, the winter months can also have an impact on those working outdoors, or those who are exposed to the elements at any point in their working day. All this can present challenges to the way you manage health and safety.

It is important to understand in some situations, staff who are sick at work can do more damage than good. Employees working with colds and flus are at an increased risk of a range of hazards like manual handling accidents, slips and falls.

In some situations, rugging up against the winter conditions could be seen as a hindrance when additional clothing, such as gloves, jackets, beanies and scarfs may be required. Adding these layers can make manual handling awkward, potentially leading to injuries from lifting incorrectly or the inability to hold onto items.

We often associate wet weather with winter and therefore we need to also be cautious as this can result in slippery surfaces causing hazards.

To overcome concerns, conduct a workplace inspection, making a list of the potential hazards and consult your employees to manage these as part of your hazard identification and risk assessment process.

Below is a good overview of all the factors to consider with the changing season.

  1. To help protect your employees from environmental elements, like heat and cold, consider  control measures such as installing shade structures or heating (or cooling) in vehicle cabins and warehouses. Business owners can also implement administrative measures, which limit the time spent in cold, outdoor environments. Adequate first aid arrangements need to be in place, and can include training remote staff on all first aid needs or assigning a trained first aider to workplaces. A seasonal risk assessment may help identify where additional first aid supplies are needed, such as a heat blanket or ice pack.
  2. Buddy your workers up and ensure they keep an eye on each other. In these situations it is important that each worker knows the signs and symptoms of heat (and cold) stress.
  3. The addition of personal protective equipment (PPE) is likely to work well combined with other required control measures listed. PPE could mean supplying appropriate weather proof jacket and gloves in cold weather.

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