Christmas is often described as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but as those who work in the emergency services know, it can also be a time fraught with risk.
Thanks to flammable festive decorations and the flow of alcohol, Christmas can quickly go up in smoke if certain safety precautions aren’t taken into consideration.
If you’re keen to protect your business and staff from fire hazards this December, here are a few tips to help you to enjoy the festive season safely:
1. Christmas lights
Every year, there are numerous fires due to Christmas lights that either short out or are too close to flammable materials. If you do decide to use fairy lights, consider using lights that do not get hot. There are a variety of LED lights on the market that come in almost every design and reduce fire hazards substantially. You could even think about using battery operated ones instead of ones that plug into the mains to eliminate any risks. Before putting up any electrical lights, you should inspect cords prior to use for any damage or exposed wires. If the lights are old, discard and replace. You should also ensure that your workplace has safety equipment on hand when using Christmas lights, such as a fire extinguisher capable of putting out an electrical fire. Also ensure that your smoke alarms and detectors are in working order – whether they be battery operated or part of a linked fire alarm system – and that at the end of the day, you unplug Christmas lights when leaving the office.
Some businesses introduce their own rules around putting up decorations and this is usually to prevent the hassle of having to repair the damage. However, Health and Safety law requires employers to make sure suitable, safe equipment is provided to put up the decorations, such as step ladders instead of office chairs. To avoid fire and trip hazards from extension cords, decorations should be placed near an electrical outlet and try not to use extension leads.
3. Drink driving
It is estimated that over 70,000 people are caught drink driving every year and drivers are nearly three times more likely to be breath-tested in December than any other month of the year. Nearly a fifth of drink-drive convictions happen the morning after the night before and a third of all breath tests after an accident are conducted between 7am and 1pm. At present, there is no legislation within the UK which requires businesses to implement alcohol policies within the workplace. However, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees in relation to alcohol at work. The only time this differs is if you work within the transport industry, where it is a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit through drinks and/or drugs if you work on the railways or transport system. If you are an employer, my advice would be that you should try and eliminate any risks you can, for example by ensuring that your work Christmas party is not on a weeknight. It is also a good idea to work alongside your HR department to make sure that you have drink/drive policies in place and ensure that all staff read and sign the document to say that they have read it and understand it.
It’s also important to remember, and get across to staff, that health and safety laws exist to protect people against being seriously injured or made unwell at work, not to hamper fun activities.
Health and safety law is often cited as a reason for preventing pretty harmless – and fun – activities from going ahead. Not only does this needlessly ruin the festive spirit, but it also trivialises the true purpose of health and safety – protecting people from real risks at, or connected with, work.
Here are a few of my favourite Christmas related ‘health and safety myths’* that often circulate at this time of year:
Myth: Children should be banned from having snowball fights.
Truth: This is not against the law. All that is needed is a sensible approach to managing the risks of real harm and suffering.
Myth: Office decorations must be put up by a ‘qualified’ person.
Truth: Most organisations, including the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), put up their decorations without a fuss. They just sensibly provide staff with suitable equipment, such as step ladders, to put up decorations, rather than expecting staff to balance on wheelie chairs.
Myth: You could be sued for clearing snow from outside your business or home. Truth: When done incorrectly, snow-clearing can injure your body and damage your vehicle or property. You just need to clear the snow quickly and efficiently. There is no law that would see you being sued for doing this.
Myth: Christmas lights needing electrical PAT (portable appliance testing) tests every year.
Truth: Lots of companies waste money on the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or don’t put them up at all! By following some sensible precautions, such as checks for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on those Christmas lights safely.
If you would like further information on how to keep your employees safe over the Christmas period, contact me on 07748 860076 or 01536 770249 or email me at [email protected]
*The health and safety myths were collated using information from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).