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Friday, 2 October 2015

Member Blog: Protecting your employees and business from the varied British weather

By Paul Watts, Branch Director, Bluefin Insurance Services, Stockport

Britain’s climate is influenced by systems originating from the Atlantic and the European landmass.

This combination results in the weather conditions our shores are synonymous with - rain and unpredictable weather.  At the beginning of the year the north of England, Wales and Scotland were inundated with snow and thunderstorms, adding the term ‘thundersnow’ to the nation’s vocabulary. Such extreme weather conditions are becoming more commonplace, with the Prime Minister commenting upon this year's ‘thundersnow’ storms in the House of Commons.

The resulting business interruption and impact on the economy shouldn’t be underestimated. Schools, transport and mobile phone signals were disrupted as 'thundersnow' storms wreaked havoc across swathes of the country. Manchester Airport suspended all departures and arrivals and more than a dozen rail services between the city and Yorkshire were cancelled as the north west of England was hit hard by a burst of wintry weather.

As we all know, even in the summer there is no guarantee of long hot days. In mid-August torrential rain with flash flood warnings affected the majority of England and Wales, causing travel mayhem and adversely affecting the tourism industry at the peak of the school summer holidays. While the varied nature of the weather can be frustrating, there are preventative measures that can be taken to avoid it causing business disruption.

Both heatwaves and snowstorms are accompanied by a number of risks and although businesses are not liable, it is important to safeguard the welfare of staff. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) states that: “during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable”. The Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should normally be at least 16 degrees Celsius. If the work involves rigorous physical effort, the temperature should be at least 13 degrees Celsius. These temperatures are not absolute legal requirements but employers have a duty of care to staff, meaning it is obligatory for them to create safe working environments.  Employers should be aware of the adverse affects of working below the minimum suggested temperature and provide a safe working environment for their staff. The HSE does not have specific guidance for working in temperatures below 13 degrees Celsius however as a first point of reference employers are advised to refer to the British Standards for assessing ‘cold stress’ in the workplace. And whilst there is no legal maximum temperature, it is important to keep the workplace cool either with air conditioning units or fans, as there is a noticeable effect on productivity levels if staff are too hot.

It is critical to ensure that you and your business are well prepared for all weather scenarios as employers have a legal duty to ensure the workplace remains safe. It is vital to have a continuity plan to guarantee arrangements are in place should the business be disrupted. It is advisable for businesses to conduct risk assessments of working environments to ensure they can cope with the issues caused by extreme weather conditions.

Research conducted at the end of 2014 by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found that three out of five (59%) of the small businesses (up to 250 employees) they questioned did not have a plan in place to deal with extreme weather conditions such as floods and snow storms. This news comes despite the news that two thirds (66%) of small businesses have been negatively impacted by flooding, drought or snow over the last three years. Around a third (29%) of businesses do not have insurance for business interruption (loss of income, costs incurred) or damage caused to property by flooding. Volatile weather conditions can cost businesses a lot of money in damaged assets, lost sales and decreased productivity. Although it is impossible to predict the weather, it is possible to decrease the associated risks and minimise the disruption to your business and your employees. This can be done partly through having open channels of communication with staff, to let them know what the protocol is when there is bad weather but also by having relevant insurance in place that offers you protection should, despite your best efforts, your business be affected by the weather.  Choosing a reputable insurance broker can make a significant difference to how a claim is handled and your business is supported as it recovers.

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