When working outdoors the environment can potentially have an impact on the safety, health and welfare of workers if the risks have not been considered or properly managed.
The additional hazards in the outdoor environment include, but is not limited to;
- Weather hazards
- Fauna (animals and insects)
- Flora (plant life)
- Water sources
- Personal safety
- Night working
- Welfare arrangements
The weather can influence an individual's effectiveness in the outdoor environment and engineering controls alone may not effectively manage the risk. In these circumstances, some of the more effective ways of managing the risk is to postpone the work or to introduce some simple administrative controls.
- Working in the Sun
Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin. The damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. Particular care should be taken for those:
- with fair or freckled skin
- whose skin goes red/burns before it tans
- with red or fair hair
- with light coloured eyes
- with large moles
- with pre-existing medical conditions
Short-term effects of too much sun exposure include redness of the skin, peeling and flaking of the skin and blistering. These are first and second-degree burns.
Long-term effects of too much sun exposure include ageing and wrinkling of the skin and most pertinently, an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
To protect workers from over-exposure to the sun;
- Ensure the skin is kept covered
- Wear hats with a brim or flaps that cover the ears and back of the neck
- Stay in the shade whenever possible, especially during breaks and lunch
- Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin.
- Keep hydrated
- Regularly check the skin and seek medical advice for any irregularities.
- Adverse Weather
This kind of weather includes:
- High or low temperature
- All forms of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, freezing rain, etc.)
- High winds
- High or low humidity
Some forms of adverse weather may be more common than others, such as rain or low temperatures in the UK. But all forms of adverse weather should be considered in a risk assessment depending on the work being undertaken.
For example, activities involving working at height or lifting equipment may be affected during high winds, but this may not affect another task such as driving. Forms of precipitation may affect outdoor electrical works, but high or low humidity may not have any affect. Therefore adverse weather should be considered on an activity basis as part of a risk assessment and suitable controls implemented.
- Cold Environments
- Ensure the personal protective equipment (PPE) issued is appropriate
- Provide facilities for warming up and encourage the drinking of warm fluids such as soup or hot drinks
- Introduce more frequent rest breaks
- Consider delaying the work – can it be undertaken at warmer times of the year without compromising on safety?
- Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of cold stress
- Consider icy or wet surfaces creating slip hazards
- Hot Environments
- Reschedule work to cooler times of the day
- Provide frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
- Provide free access to cool drinking water
- Introduce shading in areas where individuals are working
- Encourage the removal of personal protective equipment (PPE) when resting to help encourage heat loss
- Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress.
The potential to come into contact with animals should be considered in a risk assessment when working outdoors. The kinds of animals encountered will depend on the outdoor environment itself. In urban environments, the likeliest interactions will relate to pigeons, rats, mice and other pests.
The key risks to health from these animals come from pigeon guano, rat/mice urine and other pests’ waste, droppings or carcasses which can lead to diseases such as psittacosis, salmonella and leptospirosis, among others.
Simple controls include:
- Avoid contact with the animal and any droppings or urine spotted in the work area
- Cover or store equipment, holes, trenches etc. to ensure they are not exposed to pests
- Provide PPE such as gloves
- Cover any open wounds such as cuts and scratches with waterproof plasters
- Ensure food is not consumed in the outside work area and only in indoor/sheltered rest areas
- Remove PPE and thoroughly wash hands before consuming food.
Insects are also common in the outdoor environment and should be considered as part of a risk assessment. A bite will usually cause a red, swollen lump to develop on the skin. This may be painful and in some cases can be very itchy, however, most insect bites and stings are not serious in the UK and will get better within a few hours or days.
Insects that bite or sting include bees, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes, midges and ticks. On occasion, insect bites can be slightly more severe and cause an allergic reaction or a bite from a tick can cause Lyme disease. Common signs of this are irregularly large bite wounds, longer-lasting symptoms or rashes.
Simple controls include:
- Wear long-sleeved clothing and full-length trousers
- Use insect repellent
- Provide workers with information about being tick aware
Plantlife is common in the outdoor environment and can be considered if the work activity is likely to cause significant contact with it, or if the work is planned for such a duration that sensitizers and allergens may affect workers. Contact with most plants will not cause harm, but some may have an irritant sap or poisonous spines which may cause a burning sensation and sometimes blistering of the skin.
Anyone can be affected if exposure is sufficient. Sensitizers and allergens can affect those with underlying conditions such as hay fever and the exposure will be heightened in a warmer, sunnier climate.
Working outdoors may also include working or travelling near open water sources. These activities should be carried out a safe distance away from the water source to prevent the risk of falling in, drowning or contracting water-borne diseases.
Considerations should be taken for lone working, coming into contact with the public and first aid/emergency arrangements as the first aiders and emergency contact numbers of a UCL building may not cover outdoor working.
Risk assessments should identify methods to ensure:
- workers are not lone working outdoors, or minimise the risk of lone working as low as reasonably practicable.
- the work area is enclosed from public access.
- there is a method of communication between outdoor workers, or between an outdoor worker and another party.
- there is a means of receiving first aid and/or medical treatment.
> Further guidance on lone working and personal safety
The amount of daylight should be considered for outdoor working. In the winter months in the UK, sunset occurs before the end of a standard working day. Therefore, lighting and security arrangements will need to be considered for outdoor workers.
For outdoor workers, it is imperative that suitable welfare arrangements are provided to ensure access to drinking water, wash and rest facilities. This may be through safe access to UCL buildings or the provision of temporary welfare facilities.
Last updated: Tuesday, June 23, 2020