5 winter health hazards for tradespeople: tips on staying safe

Tradespeople are more at risk than most when it comes to sustaining an injury at work, and with conditions getting worse by the day, it’s worth being vigilant.

Winter can be tough for tradespeople, with jobs frequently rained off or impossible due to the conditions.

But worse still, injuries become more likely, and for a self-employed person that could mean a hit to your income.

With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at some of the biggest hazards and ways to avoid them, so you can stay healthy and productive this winter.

Slips, trips, and falls

According to both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and our own injury claims data, slips, trips, and falls are by far the most common reason for sustaining an injury in the construction sector.

24 per cent of all non-fatal injuries are attributed to accidents of this kind, according to the HSE. And with winter bringing ice, frost, and increased amounts of rain, the risk only increases.

Falls from height, meanwhile, account for 18 per cent of all non-fatal injuries, and almost half of all fatal injuries. For tradespeople working at height, it’s essential that you follow the correct health and safety procedures and take due care.

Our tips: Be extra careful with your footing and take your time. Think carefully about safety measures, including adequate sign-posting and lighting. Consider a pair of work boots with features that aid traction, such as slip resistant outsoles and ladder safe heel arches.

Handling, lifting, and carrying

Other common injuries include those sustained while handling, lifting, or carrying – accounting for 21 per cent of all non-fatal injuries in 2016-17.

Back, knee, and joint pain can be a real problem for those working in a trade, and it’s essential that you take the right precautions or you could struggle down the line.

With so much of your livelihood depending on your physical fitness, it pays to be sensible.

Our tips: Be sure to follow proper lifting technique at all times, as outlined by the NHS, and be realistic with how much weight you attempt to handle. Also take regular breaks from uncomfortable positions that put stress on the likes of your back or knees.

Frostbite

Frostbite, in all its forms, is a serious risk for people working outside in the UK in winter. And that’s especially true for people working at height, like scaffolders, or window cleaners. Working with cold metal tools or water can also bring on frostbite.

The most common areas to suffer from frostbite are your face, nose, ears, fingers and toes.

Some of the factors that might determine how severe frostbite can become can include:

  • how long you’re exposed to the cold
  • the wind chill factor
  • how damp your clothes are
  • the humidity of the air
  • whether you’ve ingested alcohol or other drugs, like caffeine

Look out for blanching or whitening, and numbness of the skin as some early signs that frostbite may be setting in.

Our tips: Invest in suitable warm, waterproof clothing. Hats and gloves will be essential, while you should limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine. Consider bringing some spare clothes in your van if you’re likely to get wet.

Illness

It’s germs – not cold weather directly – that lead to the likes of colds and the flu, but there’s no doubting that these types of illnesses are more frequent in the winter months.

Some experts suggest that the drier winter air makes it easier for viruses to survive and spread, while the fact that we naturally spend more time indoors with the central heating on (also dry air) can also contribute.

While the common cold can vary in its severity, it’s often possible to work through. The flu, however, is another matter entirely, and can put you out of work for a week or more.

Our tips: Consider getting a flu jab (check the NHS website for details), and make sure you’re following a healthy diet, with plenty of vitamin C.

Hypothermia

Another serious risk of working outside in the cold is hypothermia. While severe cases can be fatal, even mild cases of hypothermia will lead to a lack of coordination, and mental alertness, which can be equally dangerous on site.

The earliest sign of hypothermia will be shivering. However, if you fail to warm up, the shivering will stop and you may begin to feel dizzy or disorientated – if you experience any of these symptoms, the situation is urgent and you should seek medical help immediately.

The risk of hypothermia increases if:

  • you’re elderly
  • you work with water or are wet
  • you’re tired
  • you’re hungry or malnourished
  • you consume alcohol

Our tips: Much like with frostbite, you should invest in warm, water and windproof clothing, including a hat and gloves. Stay hydrated and nourished, and limit alcohol intake. Keep spare clothes with you if you’re likely to get wet.

What are your tips for staying safe while working in the winter? Let us know in the comments below.

Get personal accident insurance

Personal accident insurance can cover things like lost income and medical bills if a serious injury stops you working. You can buy it as part of your Simply Business tradesman insurance policy, alongside the likes of public liability insurance and tool cover.

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