by Andy Bishop, Health and Safety Consultant

It’s time’, I announce after dinner, the mutterings have gone on long enough, the constant question now gets an answer.   I prepare the equipment in silent anticipation.  The rest of the gang start pacing, the air of nervous excitement lies heavy in the air, ‘It’s time’ they say to each other with big grins across their faces.

As I clambered through the hatch and located the treasure, I allowed a smile to break across my face.  I blew the dust from the top and prepare to heave the weighty chest from its resting place. It’s been a while since this treasure has seen the light of day, its long-forgotten value has been discussed over every meal recently.  Everyone start to get impatient and the mutterings get louder and more frequent as the days march on and the evenings draw in until I can stand it no longer.

With a final effort the treasure breaks free from its hide and is passed eagerly to the hands stretched above the beaming faces below.  They run off with it ready to open the dusty container and get their hands and eyes on the treasure as colourful bounty spills freely, released at last from its restraints.

I suspect most families go through a similar ritual around this time of year as they retrieve their winter garments from their summer storage in order to ensure that we are all as warm as we can be as the mercury starts to dip. But do we change the way our business operates?

As a business we not only have a moral duty to keep our employees, contractors and visitors warm we also have a legal duty to do what is reasonably practicable to protect the health of our employees whilst at work. It seems strange that whilst we have a minimum temperature of at least 16°Celcius indoors (which can drop to 13°C if the work is arduous) that we don’t have one for outdoor work.  In general, an employer is obliged to give access to adequate warm clothing, suitable for the work activities, regular hot drinks and frequent rest breaks to allow workers to warm up.

It’s no coincidence that as the temperature drops, the incidence of heart attacks increases as our blood is concentrated on the core resulting in an increase in blood pressure and more strain on the heart. If a person’s normal core body temperature of 37°c drops by a mere 2°c hypothermia can set in which prevents the bodies vital organs from working correctly and can ultimately lead to death.

The spread of viral infections like colds and flu increases as does ‘the winter vomiting bug’ norovirus, of course these all exist all year round, but the combination of closed windows and the heating being increased added to us spending more time indoors in close proximity to each other lead to rapid spread.  Viral infections can run laps around the workforce as immune systems are overwhelmed and can’t produce enough of the all-important white blood cells as the blood flow is concentrated around the core.

Control measures for one worker may not fit another, so it is vitally important that health surveillance is completed regularly in order to identify the potential hazards mentioned above.

So, what is the link between brass monkeys and this blog? A ‘brass monkey’ was the name given to a triangular or square tray formed from brass on which to stack one’s cannonballs. As the mercury plummets, the soft metal contracts and the cannon balls are spilled across the decks, therefore, ‘freezing the balls of a brass monkey’.

For information on how we can help you combat the cold with effective control measures from the top, take a look at our IOSH Managing Safely course.

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