Feeling the chill

Feeling the chill

Our ‘Great’ and very ‘British’ weather is a constant source of conversation across all seasons, with many of us becoming fixated on its peculiarities, particularly when those seasons appear to act out of character, or seemingly merge, as is often now the way. The only constant with the weather is its unpredictability and winter is no exception.

The season that causes the most headaches for the beleaguered facilities manager, last winter was the third warmest on record for over 100 years. This does, and should, mean nothing though when considering the coming months.

We’re all too familiar with hard frosts, unforgiving chills and sudden falls of snow in the UK and so we take a big risk, each year, when we leave it to chance and don’t prepare for all outcomes.

The Met Office has simple, commonsense tips* to help businesses prepare for severe weather which includes making sure that all staff contact details are up to date and accessible remotely (in the event that you need to communicate with colleagues regarding the status of the weather in the immediate vicinity of the office; the expectation with reference to travelling to work, and arrival times; and letting staff know if the office will be shut etc). It also advises that companies should make provision to enable individuals to work from alternative locations, including home.

As well as advice specific to those who employ workers to work outside, who may require extra protective clothes and an increase in breaks to counter the effects of extremely cold weather, the Met Office also recommends keeping grit and salt supplies well-stocked.

From a legal perspective, companies must be able to demonstrate that they have done everything possible to adhere to health and safety to protect staff and visitors and make a building and its grounds safe when weather conditions are bad. There should be a weather plan in place, to include gritting and snow clearance, and facilities should be checked regularly, and maintained, in order to keep any site safe and fully operational.

If your facilities management package from any outside supplier doesn’t include relevant and regular weather monitoring alerts in the winter months, then this needs to be made someone’s job. Similarly, it should be that same person’s job to make sure that the grit and salt supplies are sufficient if you don’t have a company on speed dial to fulfil this requirement.

An agreed weather policy and good communications works in all weather; the key to alleviating the risks posed by the winter weather is simply to be prepared. Part of the policy should be the identification of who is responsible for each task.

Besides the grit and the salt and other specifics in relation to the facilities, such as whether or not pipes are vulnerable to bursting and need extra insulation, it’s also good to nominate who is responsible for announcing any closures and who will it be down to when it comes to making that call.

Winter certainly poses a challenge. Particularly bad weather can affect productivity, especially for those who are required to travel often as part of the job as well as for those working outside.

We can minimize all of the risks and challenges, and any eventual costs, by being prepared. Plans should cover all eventualities and include an agreed protocol for what the expectation is for office-based staff in terms of meeting their obligation and managing their workload in the event that the office is closed or they can’t get in.

Planning and communications are, ultimately, the basic components of any winter survival guide. And remember to hang on in there; it’s all cyclical and it’ll soon be the Spring !

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