Winter is here: the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. For millions of people around the UK, this means going to work and returning home in the dark.
While many of us might lament the shorter daylight hours and long for the return of summer the long evenings, most of us probably don’t think as much as we should about the dangers that shifting to winter working can bring.
Research from around the world has consistently found that the changing light levels and fatigue caused by the short-term impact of putting the clocks back – even by an hour – can increase the risk of accidents both in and out of the workplace.
With this in mind, what can you do to safeguard your employees during the winter months?
Seeing and being seen – these are two key elements to ensuring the safety of those working after dark.
Working in good light is vital to mitigate the risk of accidents. Employers are required by law to regularly assess their lighting to ensure it allows people to see properly, make out different colours and spot hazards. Alongside this, consideration should be given to the difference between light levels in neighbouring work areas and any additional risks this might pose.
Whilst the need to see where you’re going in the dark is fairly obvious, many people forget the equally vital importance of being seen by others, particularly when working close to moving vehicles. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of assuming that if you can see someone, they can see you, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
High-visibility personal protective equipment containing “glow-in-the-dark” reflective tape should be worn at all times by those working around moving vehicles after dark. Care should be taken that the correct class of high-vis is worn, with the appropriate amount of reflective material. Class 1 clothing has the lowest degree of visibility and is most suitable for employees working in well-lit areas or during daylight hours. Those who work after dark or near heavy machinery should wear either Class 2 or Class 3 PPE for added protection. Care should be taken to ensure that reflective PPE is worn as the outer layer of clothing at all times, and not covered up by extra layers added to keep warm in winter. There are many reflective PPE garments available including jumpers, coats and thermal clothing so need for your staff to be unprotected.
Research suggests that the sudden reduction in light that comes with winter evenings interferes with the circadian rhythm, a natural bodily rhythm that regulates our 24-hour body clock. Scientists have found that this disruption can have a short-term impact on energy levels, causing fatigue that it can take some people weeks to shake off.
To help your employees combat fatigue at work, encourage them to:
- Spend as much time outdoors in sunlight as they can during the day. If they don’t habitually work outside, encourage them to take a walk at lunchtime, keep blinds open and sit near a window wherever possible
- Ensure they are getting enough vitamin D and iron in their diet. Sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and spreads, while iron can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, lean red meat, nuts, beans, lentils and wholegrains
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Take steps to reduce and relieve stress by consciously building relaxation time into their day.