Working outside is not an easy job to do. Not only are you contending with the elements, you are compromising your safety daily if you are working on construction sites and scaffolding. When you must work in the snow and rain, your employer has a responsibility to you and your health. Understanding what your rights are when the climate prevents you from working is imperative to a safe working environment, and knowing whether you are being taken advantage of on the worksite.
While where you live may have a fairly balanced climate, that doesn’t mean that when the extremes of snow, hail and ice happen you aren’t at risk. Snow and ice aren’t usually seen as hazards but in excess, they can cause slips and falls that can break bones. There are many rules that your employees need to adhere to, to make sure that you are safe and comfortable in all weathers. If they aren’t ensuring that your rights are protected, essentially breaking your contract of safety, they open themselves to requiring construction dispute arbitration, which most employers would prefer to avoid! So, what does your employer need to do to meet your rights as an outdoor worker?
Working on construction sites and outdoor zones in the cold means you need to be protected. There is a Personal Protective Equipment at Work Act 1992 that says you need to have the properly maintained, properly fitted protective gear on at work. You should be trained in its use and assessed as to whether what you are wearing actually protects you. Ear muffs may be a great idea for the cold weather, but if you can’t hear a digger coming your way it isn’t going to protect you! Taking regular breaks and warming up while working is very important to ensure you don’t end up making yourself sick with chilblains and even hypothermia when the weather is extreme. There should also be a space for you to take shelter, warm up and have hot drinks available. Outdoor toilets should be available on site as a minimum and if the weather goes below or above certain temperatures, you should be able to postpone your working day until the weather settles.
Sometimes the weather goes the other way. Hot weather is just as dangerous to work in excessively as cold weather is. The heat is often overlooked, especially if you live somewhere that hot weather is a rarity. Too much sun, as we know, is harmful to your skin and if you choose to wear simple clothes while you are working, you can expose yourself to sunburn, heatstroke and even skin cancers if you are not wearing the correct sunscreen. There should be access to cold water to drink during your working day, and the day should begin when the day is coolest, breaking when the heat of the day is at its highest.
If you understand you rights for working outdoors, you can be vigilant in ensuring your employer is doing right by you while you work. You are there to do a job, not compromise your health and safety while you do it.