As the chill of winter takes hold, businesses up and down the country are bracing themselves for the treacherous conditions that can make outdoor work so difficult. Ice, snow, heavy rain, and short, dark days can all present serious hazards to employees in the construction industry, especially if your business isn’t adequately prepared. So, it’s essential that you have a plan in place to help keep your workers safe when out working in bad weather. 
To help you get winter-ready, we’ll discuss the essential personal protective equipment (PPE) that businesses need to offer their employees during dangerous conditions, as well some tips for boosting staff morale during bad weather. 
 
Provide warm clothing 
Construction workers and those who spend a lot of time on-site are at more risk of cold stress, which can lead to a range of extremely dangerous illnesses and conditions, like frostbite and hypothermia. The only way to protect your workers is to ensure they have the correct protective clothing. 
Multiple layers are warmer than one thick layer, as the air trapped between each layer acts as insulation. So, encourage employees to wear several base layers, and then offer them an insulated overcoat. This should be adequately waterproof, and not so bulky that it might limit their movement on the job. It should also feature reflective strips and other high-visibility features. 
 
Head and face protection are also essential, especially during very bad weather. Bitterly cold conditions can tempt workers to switch their helmets for hats, which can leave them vulnerable to accidents and injuries, so offer them some clothing which works with their headgear. These helmet liners from Zoro fit neatly underneath standard issue hard hats, keeping workers both comfortable and safe. 
Boots should also be waterproof, as wet feet will quickly become susceptible to cold stress, especially if staff will be working on sites with muddy ground or poor roads. Winter work boots should be large enough to accommodate either at least two pairs or thin socks, or one pair of thick ones, so it may be a good idea to order a size up. 
 
Improve visibility 
Low-light conditions are a perennial problem for the construction industry, especially in winter. So, you’ll need to have on-site work lights which are bright enough to ensure that workers can see what they’re doing during high-risk jobs. If your site is very sprawling, you may want to install mast-mounted lighting, which will illuminate a larger area more effectively. Any vehicles or mobile equipment should also be fitted with additional warning lights, as this will help to prevent collisions and encourage your workers to be aware of them as they move around the site. 
It may also be a good idea to consider your working hours: could you start work earlier or finish later in order to make the most of daylight hours? Or can certain dangerous jobs be carried out during the lightest part of the day? Not only is this often a simpler solution, but your workers will be more alert at these times, too. 
 
Minimise the risk of a fall 
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to take appropriate measures to help prevent slips and trips, both of which are more likely to occur during tough conditions. There are several ways to do this, the most important of which is to provide the right sort of footwear for both the weather and the work being performed. 
Naturally, construction workers will need protective boots that protect their feet from falling debris or other hazards, but they should also be warm enough to spend a full working day outdoors. For very icy conditions, winter boot attachments — which provide added traction and grip on the sole — may be a good idea. 
While the right footwear is a good start, you’ll also need to treat walkways, roads, pathways, loading areas, and access points with grit to stop them from freezing over. Hand rails and guardrails are a must on all raised areas and ramps where a fall from height is a possibility. 
 
Boost morale with good facilities 
As any good HR manager will tell you, promoting employee safety isn’t just about their physical health: their mental wellbeing matters, too. Having a warm employee breakroom where they can rest, socialise, and grab a hot drink can make a big difference to staff morale, especially during freezing winter weather. So, if you haven’t already, now is a great time to review your employee breakroom and other facilities and make sure they’re fully equipped for the months ahead. 
Your staff breakroom should provide adequate shelter from the worst that the British weather can throw at you, and there should be adequate heating: you may want to consider space heaters if you usually work on site. It’s also a good idea to consult your staff on whether there’s anything else they’d like to have in their break room (within reason, of course!). 
 
 
No-one relishes the prospect of the long dark winter ahead, least of all those who work in construction. But, as long as you create a plan to protect your staff, provide workers with PPE that’s appropriate for the weather, and take measures to boost morale, you should be able to make sure it doesn’t have a disproportionate effect on your business. 
 
The Ministry of Justice published figures on 8th March 2018 that single claims lodged at employment tribunals increased by a remarkable 90% between October to December 2017 compared to the same quarter in 2016. 
Claims have increased due to a change last year by the Supreme Court who abolished tribunal fees. The reasoning behind this decision was that tribunal fees meant many people were not getting access to fair justice because the fees were a barrier, especially those on low incomes. 
Anyone considering an employment tribunal claim must in the first instance speak to ACAS
ACAS will try and resolve case, acting as an intermediary between employee and employer and this can often result in a satisfactory resolution. ACAS claims to settle around 92% of disagreements between staff and their employers. 
According to ACAS the most common categories of dispute were discipline, dismissal and grievances; contracts; and wages and the national minimum wage. 
 
But what if you are a company who has been unable to resolve a dispute and have now received an employment tribunal claim? The first thing to do is act quickly. This is very important to avoid unnecessary costs. 
Allocate someone within the business to deal with the claim and respond to the paperwork within the deadlines. 
 
Our advice is always to seek legal advice and we can work with you alongside an employment lawyer to look at the case and do a full review. 
It is important to carefully look at the claim and focus on the allegations being made and do a proper investigation. 
 
An employment tribunal is an independent judicial body and its purpose is to resolve disputes according to employment law. They will listen to both the employer and employee before making a decision. 
Tribunals should be avoided as they are not a fast process and can be very time consuming. The average time is around 27 weeks and depending on the complexity it could be up to a year. It can also be very stressful for all involved. 
It is important to get legal advice relating to the success of the case and you may have to pay compensation of reinstate the claimant if you lose the case. 
 
The best advice we can give you is to avoid things ever getting to this point. This means have clear contracts with your staff, clear disciplinary procedures, staff handbook and ensure you are compliant with the latest HR and employment laws. 
We do a business health check on your company and are happy to advise you on the areas you need support and guidance. 
Preventing disputes is much better than dealing with them! 
Do not leave things to chance- act now! 
Now is the time! The weather is colder, but we haven’t had snow yet (unless you are in Scotland!) and you need to plan for the bad weather, so your business isn’t too disrupted which leads to losses or accidents. 
It a fact that Britain is never really prepared for bad weather conditions – everything seems to grind to a halt. The rail networks, buses and roads are always affected meaning that your business can lose money. We know bad weather will hit us but too many of us do little to protect our business. 
So what contingencies can you put in place to cope? 
Here are 6 top tips to ensure your business is ready for winter! 
1. Staff travel 
Start with going through all your team and making sure you know how they get to work. This should be something you do on a regular basis. A quick questionnaire – do they bus, cycle, walk, drive or come by train. 
Once you know this vital piece of information you can look at which areas were affected over the past couple of years with bad weather and what alternative transport plans can be put into place in case of issues. Proper consultation with your staff before weather issues arise is always advisable. Make sure they fully understand what measures you have in place and they know how they are going to be able to get to work should their journey be affected. It may be that you need to have a process where they can work from home. 
2. Technology 
Make sure you have a contingency plan should there be a power cut. Ensure you have up to date contact information on all your staff and clients and that this can be accessed remotely. Good IT systems are vital for any business. Consider if your office had no power – how could you continue to work? If all your phones went off – how could your customers contact, you? Good risk assessments are vital. Investing in a generator may also be advisable, depending on what your business does. 
3. Your building 
How safe is your building during the winter months? When did you last get the central heating serviced? Are your pipes lagged and have they been checked for any potential issues? Are your windows insulated? How water tight is your roof? Floods are also a risk in some areas. It is important to look at what the potential risks are to your business in adverse weather and ensure your building is safe from the elements and warm for your staff. 
Make sure you have a list of local tradesmen ready and that you have made the relevant checks before the weather hits below zero! 
4. Preventing slips and falls 
Make sure the exterior of your premises is checked daily and salt/grit added to prevent staff slipping or falling over. Ice is one of the major causes of broken and fractured limbs over the winter. Ensure you’ve gritted paths, car parks, fire escapes, access points, fire assembly points, delivery entrances 
The ‘Health and Safety at Work act 1974’ requires employers to take appropriate steps to deal with slip and trip risks. Winter is an especially dangerous time for such incidents. 
In the 2016 UK Health and safety report, it states that 20% of workplace accidents are caused by a slip, trip or fall. Don’t get caught out – make sure you have a simple daily procedure to ensure this doesn’t happen! 
5. Insurance 
Is your insurance up to date? You can also get insurance for bad weather so investing in business interruption insurance may be worthwhile. Also check your building and contents insurance and make sure you are fully covered. 
6. If your business has vehicles make sure they are ready. Ensure they are fully serviced and ready for winter and snow tyres may be a worthwhile investment if you need to deliver goods or have vehicles that need to keep moving during all weathers. 
 
Remember the 4 P’s -Proper planning, prevents, problems! 
By doing this now and ensuring you are ready for winter you will minimise disruption to your business and reduce the amount of financial loss you might suffer! 
 
It is a fact that 99% of construction workers are male. The gender diversity in the construction industry is extremely poor and the UK has one of the lowest rates in Europe. Despite campaigns such as Women in Construction Week to try and highlight the construction industry as a career choice, the increase in the numbers of women in construction is almost stagnant. 
 
Construction is one of the largest industries in the UK, which is thriving and has mass shortages of qualified workers, so this makes these facts even more shocking. So, what is the main reason that the female construction sector isn't’t growing inline with the need for more construction workers? 
 
A recent survey to women aged 16-25 cited that the main reason for not selecting a career in construction was the fact it was so male dominated and this for them felt intimidating. 
 
Clearly there needs to be more done to unite the industry and raise awareness of this issue. If more young women were encouraged into the sector this would of course increase the male to female ratio. But with an industry so heavily dominated by men is this possible and what can be done? 
 
Construction companies themselves need to get behind or create their own schemes which encourage females to take a construction career path. Several companies have taken this initiative including The Guinness Partnership, Crossrail, BuildLondon, Tideway and HS2. Many are offering schemes with free workshops, training and providing positive role models to encourage females into construction. This needs to increase dramatically as the more companies that are involved will of course increase the number of female construction workers. 
Women into Construction are working hard to raise this issue and are responsible for supporting females into construction. 
This is an independent not-for-profit organisation that promotes gender equality in construction. Offering bespoke support to women wishing to work in the construction industry, and assist contractors to recruit highly motivated, trained women, helping to reduce skills gaps and create a more gender-equal work force. Their vision is to be the construction industry’s organisation of choice for women and contractors, and to change the face of construction, normalising the position of women in the construction industry. 
 
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, launched the ‘Not Just for the Boys’ campaign with Women into Construction in February 2015. In the 3-year period since its launch this scheme has given more than 700 women employment advice, over 500 women construction related training, and brokering 225 women into employment. This is a major breakthrough and proves with the right support changes can be made. 
Society needs to change its views as females are not born with the view that building is for boys, it is our current way of raising children leads them to believe that. Changes in the perception of the building trade needs to start with children. It could be argued that leaving the discussions about trades careers until 15 is too late and that the mindset around this career is already largely fixed by this point. 
Plain Talking HR is committed to supporting construction employ more women, it’s a cause we believe is well worth championing. 
 
To read more information on a recent detailed report by The Smith Institute Think Tank which discusses the future of women in construction click here to visit this link  
I recently watched a short film I came across on social media. It was called "If I were a young woman now" and features mature women discussing the lifestyles of young women today. One of the women in the video says "Believe me, if I were a young woman now, I would spend more time being, not doing". 
 
In recent research, 4 out of 5 women say they put too much pressure on themselves. And it's not just women who seem to be so busy. Men too find themselves saying "I'm too busy....", "I'm too tired...". This got me to thinking about our busy lives and what being busy stops us being. 
 
When we're busy: 
 
- We don't have time to think straight, and we react instead of thinking things through 
- We're never just present in the moment, enjoying what each of those moments bring 
- We miss opportunities, instead we just see them as distractions 
- We make excuses for problems instead of dealing with them, and then they get worse 
- We forget to look after ourselves - physically and emotionally 
- We no longer dream about the future, things we'd like to achieve, things we long to do 
- We're not there for the people who need us 
- We forget to make time for and keep in touch with friends 
- We don't make the time to do ….. nothing 
Summer is here again and we're in the middle of Britain's longest heatwave since the drought of 1976. While the temperature outside soars, so can the heat indoors, and talk often turns to whether there's a maximum temperature for the workplace and if employees can go home once the thermometer reaches a certain level. 
 
Contrary to popular belief, there is no maximum temperature defined. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 state that the temperature in the workplace needs to be "reasonable". What is reasonable depends on the nature of the workplace and the type of work being carried out by employees. 
 
However, employers do have a duty to ensure their employees can work safely in heat, and may wish to consider some temporary work adjustments, especially if the work is strenuous or physical or if employees are pregnant or have medical conditions that are affected by the heat. 
 
Employers could relax dress code rules, provide extra fans, provide water to drink and encourage staff to keep hydrated. Outdoor workers may wish to do most of their work at either end of the day to avoid the mid-day sun. Flexible working hours may also help employees avoid the heat of the rush hour. 
I heard recently that a four-year-old asks up to 400 questions a day. Wow, that's a lot of questions! But it's by asking all these questions that they learn so much during their early years. When they start school, the number of questions children ask begins to decline. Indeed, throughout their school years they are rewarded not for asking questions, but for giving the right answers! 
 
This got me thinking about how many questions we, as adults, ask. How often do we assume we always know the answer (when there might be a better solution), that everything is fine (when it isn't) or that everyone agrees with us (when they don't)? 
 
I firmly believe that one of the most important characteristics in life is to have the ability and willingness to learn. Learning is a life-long process - we don't know everything and there's always the opportunity to learn new skills, knowledge or a better way of doing things. 
 
I don't know what I don't know, but I do know that there's a lot of it. So I'm always asking questions, I actively seek constructive feedback from others and I never want to be the smartest person in the room. I enjoy debate and being challenged, and this is why every day IS a school day and I never stop learning. 
When you can’t afford to give pay rises, then a bit of creativity is called for when thinking of ways to reward your employees without it costing the earth. So we’ve done the thinking for you and here are our top 5 ideas for rewarding your workers without offering a pay rise. 
 
Employee Awards – introduce Employee of the Month or similar award. As well as public recognition and a certificate of achievement you could offer a small prize like a meal for two, theatre tickets, a bouquet of flowers or shopping vouchers. 
 
Days Off – give people an extra day or two’s holiday to be taken on top of their annual holiday allowance. People value their free time, so more of it is always appreciated. 
 
Development Opportunities – offering the opportunity to go to a training course or providing some mentoring sessions with someone they can learn from is a great way to increase their skills and prove some career development. 
 
Nights Out – take the team out for a drink, go bowling, play mini-golf or go to a bingo/quiz night. Getting the team together outside the workplace also helps with team bonding. 
 
Flexible Hours – consider offering flexible work patterns. Perhaps they would appreciate a shorter working week, later starts, earlier finishes or longer break times. It might also be possible to allow some employees to work from home occasionally. 
 
A good tip is that it’s always useful to find out from your employees how they would like to be recognised so that you can make the reward personal to them. 
Last month the Mental Health Foundation hosted its annual Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year the focus was on Stress. 
 
The Health and Safety Executive reports that over 500,000 workers experienced work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/2017 with 12.5 million working days being lost to these problems. 
 
However, whilst people are talking about mental health more than ever, there remains a stigma surrounding stress. Employees suffering from stress and associated problems like depression and anxiety often feel they will be thought of as weak if they admit they are finding it difficult to cope. 
 
Employers, in their duty to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, should look out for staff who may be displaying signs of stress and do what they can to support them. 
 
Of course, not all stress that employees experience is work-related. There can be personal issues outside of work or at home that cause people to come to work feeling stressed. The additional pressure of work can then cause people to feel overloaded. While it’s generally acknowledged that an amount of work pressure is normally a benefit to motivation and productivity, too much pressure, or pressure when they are already struggling can affect their emotional and physical health, reduce their productivity and lead to issues with their work performance. 
 
Spotting the signs of someone experiencing stress 
Signs you should look out for include: 
 
• changes in the employee’s behaviour, their mood and/or the way they interact with their colleagues 
• changes in the standard of the employee’s work, their ability to focus and/or loss of interest in their work 
• they may start turning up late for work or being absent due to sickness 
• the employee may become withdrawn and appear anxious or tired 
• increases in smoking, drinking and/or losing their appetite 
 
Talking to the employee 
Although it’s important not to make assumptions, if you think an employee may be suffering from stress, the worst thing to do is to avoid the issue. You should arrange to speak with the employee in private as soon as possible. Conversations of a sensitive nature can be extremely difficult, so it’s important that you are positive and supportive and try to reassure the employee. 
 
It may be that the employee doesn’t want to talk about what they are going through. If that’s the case, then it’s important you let them know you are there to help and support them in any way you can. And if the employee does wish to talk in the future, that your door is always open. 
 
If the employee does decide to talk, you should listen rather than talk, give the employee as much time as necessary and be open minded to anything that you hear. 
 
If the problem is work related, then you can try to identify what’s causing the problem. It may be possible to make some changes to their working arrangements or responsibilities. Sometimes that is all that’s needed, and any changes made can be temporary or, if necessary, made permanent. Even where the problem is not work-related, this type of support may still help, as it’s a reduction in the overall pressure in the employee’s life. 
 
Follow up 
It’s important that you continue to monitor the employee, check how they are feeling and whether any workplace changes are helping. Be sure to offer additional support as and when needed. 
If the situation isn’t improving, or appears to be getting worse, then you should seek expert HR guidance on next steps. 
 
With last week being the spring half-term holiday, it got us thinking about how it can be difficult for working parents to balance their work life with caring for a young family. In addition, all employees - parents or not - can have times when they're struggling to cope with various family difficulties. 
 
Many large corporations and public bodies have specific policies in place that address these employee needs, whilst smaller businesses often don't have anything defined. As a result, it can be confusing for employers to know what to do when an employee is experiencing problems at home. However, providing a family friendly work environment with clear work life balance policies doesn't have to be difficult or costly. 
 
Amongst your employees, you're likely to have: 
 
•Mothers and fathers with young children 
•Individuals with sick or elderly dependents 
•Individuals facing and/or coping with separation or divorce 
•Individuals facing and/or coping with bereavement 
•Pregnant women with maternity rights 
•Fathers entitled to paternity leave 
•Parents entitled to parental leave 
•Individuals with short and/or long term medical conditions 
 
There is often complex legislation surrounding employees' rights relating to these types of issues. What are the rules when someone asks for time off for a dependent, requests compassionate leave or needs to attend medical appointments during working hours? What rights does a pregnant woman or new father have, and what about when the parents are adopting a child? 
 
It can be a minefield trying to deal with employee issues if you don't know the law and don't have policies in place defining how they are handled. Mishandling an issue could ultimately see the employment relationship breaking down and you could find yourself facing an Employment Tribunal. 
 
If you would like to find out more about family friendly and work life balance policies, please feel free to give me a call on 01582 488410 or email us
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