As the cold weather plummeted into the minus degrees last week, Union leaders called for outdoor work to cease in freezing conditions.

Currently, there is no legal maximum or minimum temperature for working outside. Guidance exists purely on suggestions on administrative controls and simply what to wear- don’t remove clothing to expose bare skin in hot conditions; cover up with gloves and hats when the cold snaps happen.

It is surprising that guidance from the HSE does not exist past this point when there are so many jobs that occur outdoors in all sectors- including agricultural, arboricultural, construction, services and even entertainment.

Working outdoors in extreme cold can lead to Cold stress. This occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia.

With this in mind, Union Chiefs at UCATT have written to major house builders demanding the introduction of guidelines for working in extreme weather conditions for construction workers.

They argue that “the NHBC makes it clear that mortar should not be used below 2°C, whilst construction workers should put their gloves on, get out there and suffer.”

UCATT Acting General Secretary, Brian Rye, said: “It’s a complete indictment of an industry that has temperature guidelines to safeguard materials but none whatsoever for the workers. This must now change.

“We have written to the NHBC to ask them to inject some humanity into the industry and provide clear temperature and extreme weather guidelines for constructors to apply to workers.

“In an age when we no longer send young children up chimneys to clean them, we should equally not be forcing construction workers to work in inhuman conditions. If it’s too cold for mortar- it’s too cold for mortals!”

For now, we shall have to be content with the HSE’s Thermal Comfort Checklist.

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