Working outdoors carries with it inherent risks, especially when compared to the majority of indoor based working environments. The weather, the nature of the work and the often dangerous machinery used to accomplish it all pose significant hazards to the outdoors worker.
In this guide, I want to look at some of the regulations and best practice that both employers and employees need to bear in mind, when undertaking work outdoors.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is vital for outdoor workers. The appropriate PPE will depend on the job that you’re doing and the environment you’re working in. Different environments present different hazards and that may require different PPE. For example, some machinery requires heavy gloves to avoid injury and other machinery requires no gloves to avoid snagging. Before assigning PPE to your workers, as an employer you should carry out a full risk assessment and, where possible, eliminate or reduce the threat posed by any identified hazards.
Some PPE is common to many working environments – head protection is required wherever there’s the possibility of falling objects causing injury and/or employees are working at height. Other PPE is more specialised to a specific task or tool, such as chainsaw PPE, which includes specialist gloves and helmets with face and ear protection.
It’s also worth noting that all PPE used in the UK needs to carry appropriate CE certification and should be regularly checked and maintained.
The HSE has published detailed guidelines about the types and standards of PPE that should be used.
Environment and Weather
Working outside can expose your workforce to extremes of heat and cold (yes, even in the UK).
In cold weather, it is important to take certain precautions. Ensure that you have access to warm drinks or soup, and that there is a provision for shelter at your workplace. You also need to ensure that your clothing is appropriate for the weather – waterproof, windproof and appropriately warm. Frequent rest breaks are advisable when the weather is cold, and everyone should be trained in spotting the first signs of cold stress.
In hot weather, the dangers are a bit different. To begin with, prolonged exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer, so skin protection is vital even if the sunshine appears weak or the day is overcast. Light protective clothing is more effective than skin cream, but both are important. It’s also important to drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks. Shade should be provided wherever possible in or near the work area, and everyone should be trained to recognise the symptoms of heat stress. However hot it gets, it’s important that workers do not remove any high-vis clothing if this is required.
The Health and Safety Executive has published useful guidelines for working in hot and cold weathers.
Working with Chainsaws and other Dangerous Machinery
Chainsaws are extremely dangerous and accidents involving them can cause serious injury and even death. For this reason, there are specific regulations involving safe chainsaw use. There are also specific guidelines as to the PPE that must be worn when using a chainsaw. Head and eye protection, chainsaw gloves and boots, heavy trousers and groin protection, and hearing protection are all required to be used and to meet industry standards.
With all dangerous machinery, including chainsaws, it’s important to make sure that everyone working with the machinery is properly trained and has the appropriate experience or supervision. It’s also very important to make sure that the machinery is properly serviced and maintained, and carefully stored.
Understanding the Working Environment
It’s also important to consider the environment that you are working in. For example, if you are working in a remote area, you need to have a system in place for checking in, so that your safety can be monitored. If you are working in an agricultural environment, you need to be aware of possible chemical usage and also of any animal in your vicinity. Finally, if visibility is poor in the working environment, then you should be wearing high-visibility clothing.
There are obvious dangers involved in working at height, especially in remote or heavily wooded areas, and you need to make sure that the correct safety measures are in place. These can involve using tools or machinery from ground level if appropriate. In the case of tree surgeons or arborists this might mean using pole saws, on a building site it might mean properly maintained harnesses or even mobile platforms. It’s also important to have people trained in emergency procedures and first aid.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005 outline the requirements and best practice for employers and employees working at height. More specific guidance on aerial tree work can be found on the HSE website.
As with all manual work, it’s important to consider how to stay safe and avoid unnecessary risks. When working with heavy objects or doing an intensively manual job, you need to take care of your back when lifting, as well as wear the appropriate PPE. Although it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure a proper risk assessment is undertaken, appropriate PPE and equipment is issued and training is given, it is also important that every outdoor worker understands their own responsibilities. Their safety could depend on it.
About the Author: Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading Ltd, the UK’s leading supplier of arborist equipment, tree surgery and tree climbing equipment. You can connect with Paul on Twitter on @LandmarkTrading or check out their Facebook page.