Winter warmth blog 1 - The importance of keeping warm

Winter 2022/3 is shaping up to be a tough time for businesses: facing high energy bills and the challenges of supply chain turbulence will lead to a stretched supply of cold weather PPE in the coming months. In this series of three helpful blogs we hope to offer some insight and advice to help you support your workforce and help them to work safely to their full potential through the winter at a time when there is financial pressure to turn the heating down.

Why is it so important to keep your workers warm and dry this winter?

Health:
Lowering body temperature can lead to early stages of hypothermia: cold, painful hands and feet, loss of feeling in extremities, reduced concentration, and tiredness. Workers with heart or circulatory conditions may be at even more risk. All these stresses could lead to potentially dangerous issues.

Outside workers are even more vulnerable, to wind chill and wet conditions. Where they may have relied on coming inside for breaks to dry off and warm up, pressure on heating costs may limit their options.

Productivity:
This is reduced by being wet and cold. Most people generally struggle to feel effective when it is cold, wet and dark. Energy levels dip, comfort eating habits become the norm and Vitamin D levels drop due to the lack of sunlight. As a result, productivity levels crash.

Guidelines for workplace temperatures suggest they should be “reasonable”, with a suggested minimum of 16oC, or 13oC if doing physical work. But research into ideal working temperatures, carried out by Indoor Environment at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, concludes that staff performance increases up to around 21/22oC, (decreasing above that). This same research highlighted a direct correlation between office temperature and employee happiness levels, and consequently, productivity.

Safety:
Staff not wearing the right PPE for their environment will be at increased risk of attempting risky workarounds which might restrict their protection levels. Removing bulky gloves to work, wearing layers inappropriate to the hazard or having a reduced field of vision are just a small sample of the dangers.

Keeping your workers warm will not only maximise productivity but will also help reduce injuries and protect physical and mental health.

Here are 10 ideas to keep your workforce warm this winter:

  • Create a bright environment: Maximise natural light by opening blinds and make sure workspaces are well lit, this helps with motivation in darker months.
  • Fresh air breaks: It may sound counter intuitive, but encourage staff working indoors to wrap up and get outside for short breaks: This will help them feel refreshed and keep them moving, and will boost vitamin D levels.
  • Hydration: Encourage workers to stay hydrated, essential for warmth. (NB relying on caffeinated drinks may restrict blood vessels and slow the body’s warming responses.)
  • Food will help your body to produce heat. Regular healthy snacks with carbohydrates and fats will help keep your body warm.
  • Indoor shelter: Ensure that outside workers can come in and dry off/warm up regularly. Provide warm rest facilities with access to hot drinks.
  • Provide drying areas for wet clothing. Wet clothing can allow the body to lose heat very quickly, increasing the risk of hypothermia.
  • Check the indoor temperature: Identify areas where workers are exposed to cold temperatures and allow regular breaks in warm rest areas.
  • Conserve heat: Ensure desks and cabinets are not blocking heat sources. Keep windows closed overnight and keep airflow to the minimum necessary, to reduce cold drafts. This will keep staff warmer while reducing energy consumption.
  • Structure a winter PPE plan: Consult your staff and provide appropriate protective clothing, including hats and gloves – read our next blog about the science behind layering and the best thermal, waterproof and breathable clothing combinations.
  • Introduce a buddy system: Watching out for one another is the best way to ensure that cold weather distress is avoided. Hold a safety meeting, when colder weather is expected, to educate staff on the risks of cold stress, how to recognise symptoms and what to do in the event of hypothermia.


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