Working outside can be dangerous at times, so it’s important to know how to keep your workers and yourself safe at all times. The weather, the surroundings, the machinery you use and the type of work you are doing all represent significant health and safety risk factors and need to be carefully planned for.
The following guide is intended to cover health and safety best practice outdoor workers and their employers.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is gear and clothing used by a worker to prevent injury and is absolutely essential to health and safety. If you require people to work in hazardous environments, then it is your responsibility as an employer to ensure that they have access to this equipment free of charge. PPE needs to be stored properly, maintained and checked at regular intervals, and replaced when necessary. Your workers should know who has responsibility for PPE.
This can include helmets or bump caps, and also protection for the face and eyes, such as visors, safety masks, goggles or safety glasses. Branches, smoke, chemicals and flying debris such as wood chips can all cause injury to the eyes and face. Helmets protect workers from falls and from falling objects.
Hand and arm protection
Gloves can protect the hands from injuries such as cuts, bruises, burns and abrasions, as well as protecting against insects and plants. Depending on the kind of work being done, cuffed gloves or gloves with sleeving are recommended for outside workers, except when the machinery being used runs the risk of catching on the glove.
Feet and legs
Workers should wear the proper footwear at all times. Work boots with reinforced toecaps will protect your feet from injury, and wearing boots with ridged soles will prevent accidents caused by slipping. Depending on the environment, gaiters might be necessary, or safety trousers.
It’s important that all the clothing worn is appropriate for the work. In extreme weather conditions, for example, workers need protection from heat, cold, wind and water. It’s important that the right kind of material is used. Equally, when working with chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides, safety clothing can prevent injury or contamination. High visibility jackets and workwear are also recommended, especially when working near roads or railways, or in forested or remote areas. The HSE website has information about PPE and regulatory standards.
Chainsaws and other Dangerous machinery
Whatever kind of outdoor work is being undertaken, it’s very important that there are qualified first aiders on site, emergency procedures are in place, and that everyone knows what to do if there is an accident. For those working with dangerous machinery this is especially pertinent as a large number of outdoor work based accidents are machinery related.
There’s no getting away from the fact that chainsaws are amongst the most dangerous hand operated power tools outdoor workers can use. As an employer you need to be aware of the best ways to ensure chainsaw safety and carry out a proper risk assessment. This includes making sure that anyone using a chainsaw, or any other dangerous equipment for that matter, is properly trained and knows how to check it before and after use. The equipment itself needs to be properly maintained and regularly checked by approved individuals.
Safety equipment, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), must be available to all workers using dangerous machinery. For chainsaw operators, this includes safety boots, trousers and jackets, gloves, a helmet and eye and ear protection, such as goggles or visor and earplugs. The HSE guidance gives a lot more detail relating to best practice and standards you need to meet if you or your staff are going to be working with chainsaws.
Aerial Working Health and Safety
Working outdoors can often involve working at height. Before you or your employees do begin working at height, however, you should undertake a proper health and safety risk assessment, called a hierarchy of control measures, to be sure that working at height is necessary. If it isn’t, don’t do it.
If working at height is the only option, then you need to assess the specific risk. In aerial tree work for example, this could be the condition and stability of the tree you need to climb or on a building site, the existence of safety barriers and properly secured scaffolding or platforms. The person who is working at height must have the proper training and appropriate equipment must be used at all times. Support from ground staff is also important.
The HSE website has more information about the hierarchy of control measures and the specific health and safety guidance when working at height.