As ever, the British weather has been markedly changeable of late. Summery one moment and autumnal the next, but with the autumn equinox now come and gone, the night’s are drawing in and the height of winter is almost upon us. Our winters are generally unpredictable, but proper preparation can see us well prepared for the worst. Tina Chittenden discusses some of the issues and contingencies involved for security personnel.
When you’re tucked up at home, wintry weather can be little more than a distraction. Indeed, many of us openly welcome the opportunity to settle down in front of a nice fire while the weather does its worst outside.
However, the Office for National Statistics reports that many crimes are seasonal and those that rise in frequency during the winter months include robbery at business properties, while issues involving motor vehicles can pose problems for security personnel.
The winter is most certainly not a season of rest for the latter.
What are the main issues?
Although the elderly and young children are likely to be most affected, extremely cold weather can cause serious health problems for anyone. We shouldn’t be complacent. This is particularly true for those individuals – security officers among them – who work outdoors.
All managers have a Duty of Care towards their employees and, on that basis, need to assess the risks that may arise in winter weather. As a manager, you have a responsibility to ensure your company takes appropriate action to reduce or eliminate the risks of increased breathing difficulties, heart problems, colds, flu and slips and falls for your members of staff – all of which can be triggered or worsened by cold-related conditions.
Any absences from work due to cold-related illnesses or accidents are unpleasant for the individual(s) involved, but also have implications for businesses who still need to provide a solid and effective security service or otherwise suffer reputational damage or financial penalties as a result of not doing so.
To help prevent colds and flu as well as other illnesses spreading among your workforce, good hand washing facilities should be widely available along with antibacterial cleansing gels or foams. This helps to remove the bugs that employees may pick up from touching surfaces (such as light switches and door handles) used by other people.
Security personnel on patrol
Security officers required to patrol outside are at the greatest risk of suffering illness or accident while carrying out their duties. If your officers need to patrol property perimeters or perhaps visit a number of locations, they could well be out in the cold for long periods.
Do you have winter-ready uniforms and can the officers carry out all their duties while wearing them? For example, will they have to remove their gloves to carry out certain duties?
Importantly, have you specified and/or provided appropriate footwear?
Security officer Gate Houses are rarely known for their luxury. If such locations don’t have heaters installed, then wherever possible portable electric heaters should be supplied. If gas heaters are needed then they should be suitable for indoor use and Gas Safe-checked before use. The space within will also need to be properly ventilated.
Conduct a risk assessment
Cold weather risks should form part of every businesses’ risk assessment procedures and cover the security officers required to patrol outdoors as well as the clients’ premises where they’re stationed (although it’s likely you will have limited control over the latter). Issues that affect your own office staff should also be adequately assessed.
It’s important to consider working patterns for staff in the office. This might mean more flexible work hours, or perhaps the option of working from home in order to avoid travelling in the worst conditions.
Often, travel will be unavoidable and, whether driving to and from work or using a vehicle as part of their job, it’s a good idea to remind employees of the need for special precautions in wintry driving conditions.
Before setting off they should check their tyres. These are an often overlooked part of the car, but ensuring they’re correctly inflated and have sufficient tread is even more important in winter to avoid skidding off the road.
Staff should also top up screenwashes, including the right amount of additive to prevent freezing.
If door locks are frozen on security patrol vehicles, for example, the addition of WD-40 usually does the trick. De-icer or a scraper should be used on windows and windscreens rather than hot water.
Batteries are affected by cold weather and they run down more quickly. It’s best to depress the clutch when starting the engine to reduce drag and preserve battery power. A regular long journey can keep the battery topped up.
Packing the essentials
Before travelling, a few essentials need to be packed (and particularly if security personnel are going outside for long periods or driving significant distances). This ‘snow kit’ should include an ice scraper, a warm coat, hat, gloves, sturdy boots, a blanket, food and water (and, ideally, a hot thermos flask if really severe weather is forecast).
A shovel is essential in case a vehicle becomes lodged in heavy snow. If it’s really stuck, placing some old bits of carpet under the wheels can also ease the vehicle back on the move.
Running the engine for 10-15 minutes per hour should keep the car’s occupants warm, particularly with the contents of that ‘snow kit’ to hand. However, it’s vital the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow as lethal carbon monoxide fumes could enter the car.
In heavy snow or blizzard conditions, the best advice is to remain inside or at the very least close to the vehicle as it’s easy to become disoriented and lost.
There’s no way to guarantee that you and your security employees will make it through this coming winter without incident, but proper planning can help avoid any unnecessary slip-ups.
Tina Chittenden is Head of the Security Sector at Darwin Clayton