As we leave summer behind and move into the autumn months, we can see the days gradually getting shorter, and the weather getting colder and wetter. This is something that’s only going to continue as we head closer to winter, presenting increased health and safety risks for your employees. This ranges from the likelihood of slips, trips and falls occurring within your premises, as well as low mood due to SAD (Seasonal Effective Disorder). This is a type of depression that tends to occur in the colder months, leading many to theorise that it’s caused by a lack of sunlight.
For business owners and facilities managers, you should keep these risks in mind when preparing your office for the new season. It’s a known fact that happy employees equal more productive ones, as well as ones that are more likely to stay with your organisation for the long-haul. As an employer, you also have a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of your staff. With this in mind, it’s vital that you do all you can to keep them safe, comfortable and happy in the colder months.
Bring plenty light and warmth into the office
To minimise the symptoms of SAD (which include a persistent low mood and feeling lethargic), ensure your office is designed to be as bright as possible in autumn and winter. To make the most of a limited amount of daylight, make sure that windows aren’t blocked by thick blinds and large objects, and use clever design hacks to trick the mind into thinking the room is more illuminated than it is. This includes adding mirrors (which reflect light around the room) and painting the walls a bright colour.
Most modern office buildings have built-in lighting systems that are operated by sensors. However, if your building has lightbulbs that are operated by a switch, swap your standard bulbs for daylight bulbs. They’re less harsh than fluorescent bulbs and they provide a similar amount of light to natural daylight. Similarly, if your office doesn’t have a built-in heating and cooling system, supply portable heaters for any members of staff that are particularly sensitive to the cold.
Testing out the boiler before the coldness of winter comes is also vital. Nathan Harkus told us that “so many people never check their boilers over summer and as soon as it becomes cold, they find out that its faulty”. When it colds, this will be the busiest time for most plumbers, so getting things sorted quickly can be quite frustrating.
Prevent slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls pose a considerable risk to your employees, as well as any visitors to your premises.
According to the Labour Force Survey, a total of 609,000 injuries occurred in the workplace in 2016/17. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also reports that slipping, tripping and falling on the same level were the biggest cause of workplace injury in that same period. Due to the colder months bringing an increased risk of heavy rain, icy conditions and snow, the risk of people falling on your premises is also increased, so you need to ensure your building is prepared.
As well as making sure that external paths to your building are regularly cleared of ice snow and other debris, ensure you have suitable entrance mats and matting systems in place to dry your visitors’ shoes and remove debris from them. In particularly icy conditions, external paths leading up to the building’s entrance may also need to be gritted.
Minimise the spread of seasonal colds and flu
Ever heard a person say that you’re more likely to catch a cold when the weather is actually cold? This isn’t a myth. As exposure to cold weather can lower our immune system, it makes us more susceptible to catching the common cold or flu, and this risk is heightened in smaller, enclosed spaces… like offices. This is because cold and flu-causing germs are spread by people coughing and sneezing.
By making just a few simple changes to your office, you can greatly impact the health and well-being of your workers in autumn, winter, and beyond. Although colds and the flu are harmless to most of us, the runny nose, sore throat and other symptoms aren’t pleasant, and they can greatly impact your employees’ productivity. To minimise colds and flus from spreading in your office, encourage your employees to wash their hands regularly by putting up signs in the kitchen and washrooms, and providing them with hand sanitisers that can be kept on their desk or carried around with them. You should also ensure that your surfaces and equipment (such as phones, keyboards and computer mice) are wiped down regularly.