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Seven considerations for cleaning businesses over the festive season

Published 24th November, 2023 by Neil Nixon

Seven considerations for cleaning businesses over the festive season

Tom Armenante, Director at GTSE, Vicki Sutton, Operations Director at Safety Forward Ltd, and Rachel Butler CFIOSH, Head of Health, Safety and Risk at Bruntwood, report.

The Christmas build up is often one of the most exciting and busiest times of year for UK businesses. This is especially true for retail, with gift buyers and Black Friday shoppers going all out. The hospitality sector has non-stop festive party bookings and the logistics industry is busy making sure everything gets where it needs to be for the big day.

This seasonal hustle and bustle brings with it a range of workplace hazards for cleaning staff to contend with, which need to be addresses to ensure a happy, healthy and profitable Christmas for businesses and their employees. That's why Tom Armenante, Director at GTSE, Vicki Sutton, Operations Director at Safety Forward Ltd, and Rachel Butler CFIOSH, Head of Health, Safety and Risk at Bruntwood, have teamed up to share their advice, listing some of the most common risks seen during the early winter months.

Seven seasonal health and safety risks

1) Festive parties
We all want to enjoy Christmas, perhaps with a few nibbles and a glass of bubbly on the last working day. However, please remember your employees may be operating plant machinery and others may be driving home to enjoy this time with their family. Operations Director, Vicki Sutton, urges employers to consider the implications of alcohol in the workplace and the moral duty to ensure everyone makes it home safely. She adds: "When serving food, consider its preparation, storage and how it is shared. Cover food or keep it refrigerated and never leave it out for long periods of time to prevent bacteria growth. You can find plenty of advice on this topic using resources such as the Food Standards Agency and industry blogs.

2) Failing to assess and report incidents
Whilst it isn't possible to prevent every accident or injury at work, businesses must give attention to preventing and recording incidents. Head of Health, Safety and Risk, Rachel Butler, insists that adequate and suitable risk assessments must be carried out and kept up to date for all activities and meet compliance for inspections. This includes, fire alarms, emergency lighting and PAT testing of electrical equipment. More information can be found on the HSE website. Alongside this, Rachel recommends that employees have a robust reporting system for accidents and incidents. It is important that the business can learn from them, no matter how insignificant they might seem.

3) Trailing cables and trip hazards
Very often, trailing cables from light can cause obstructions in the walkways and behind desk space, increasing the risk of trips, falls and accidents. Tom Armenante, Director at GTSE, recommends that cables are secured appropriately with cable ties, electrical tape or floor coverings. Something which is also true for outdoor decorations on the exterior of the building.
Rachel Butler adds: "Something I have seen on more than one occasion is extension leads plugged into extension leads which have resulted in fires! Whilst this may feel like a simple fix when your extension cable doesn't quite reach its desired destination, it is a huge fire hazard and should not be done under any circumstances. Poor cable management such as this leads to overheating and fires. Fan heaters in particular should be plugged directly into the wall, checked before use and the cable fully extended. Otherwise, a coil could act as a heat mechanism causing fires. If the cable is winding bak on itself, try using electrical tape to keep it in place but, avoid using duct tap as it isn't as heat resistant. Sadly, I have witnessed this and an already overstretched fire brigade had to then attend the workplace, fortunately no on was harmed."

4) Christmas time complacency
With people's minds usually in other places or looking forward to their Christmas break, Rachel finds that people can become complacent with standard safety protocols/ no one means to have accidents, but weather conditions often lead to increased slips, trips and falls. Ultimately, the majority of the workforce are rushing to get finished. As a results corners are cut and health and safety can quite often be the first thing to go out of the window. Rachel said: "This is not 'Elf and safety gone mad!" Training refreshers which highlight hazards and basic housekeeping such as, not blocking fire escapes and routes with boxes from decorations or a clear out of the cupboard and PAT testing dodgy looking fairy lights can all help. Or a reminder about not overloading extension leads which doesn't take long to do but, could save lives.

5) Using swivel chairs as ladders
Something often missed by employers and employees is the risk involved in the set up itself. When decorations come out of storage (whether from the loft or storage area at work) remember to check and ask... Are the ladders suitable? Have checks been carried out? Is there someone available to hand the boxes to? Vicki warns, to never use a swivel chair from the office when working at height, as you may end up falling. It's all to easy to want to save time finding and setting up ladders of steps however, standing on a moving platform on wheels is highly likely to cause an injury.

6) Beware winter weather
Rachel Butler advises that there is an increase in the number of incidents at this time of year across the industry, especially as people travel between home and work. This is largely due to weather conditions which can be icy, cold and wet, combined with dark nights and mornings. Understandably, added travel pressures can be stressors, whether as a professional driver or a commuter. Making it important for businesses to have a larger focus on health and safety during the festive period. According to Rachel, the construction industry or any other trades expected to work outdoors are particularly affected by the period and more should be done to ensure workers are kept safe and warm.

7) Dangerous decorations

Vicki Sutton recognises that a tree can make Christmas but this shouldn't come at the expense of safety. Choose an are where you are not going to obstruct any signage, fire exits and extinguishers. It also needs to be secured so that it is less likely to be knocked over and should never be positioned close to a candle or heat source. If you have a real tree, be aware of needles drying out as they will become more flammable. Dry needs combined with hot fairy lights which have been left on all day could be disastrous. Ensuring that lights are turned off and unplugged before leaving for the day is the best way to avoid such fires. Before hanging decorations, remember to check the cables and strings for breakages and don't forget to include lights in your PAT testing schedule. These can easily be forgotten!

Why is this so important?

Commenting on health and safety and why it needs to be taken seriously at Christmas, Tom Armenante said: "Failing to take health and safety seriously can lead to physical harm for your employees and the public, ranging from minor accidents and injuries to more deadly outcomes. Alongside this you could lose out financially from damage to equipment and your premises. Delays whilst these damages are being fixed may results in reduced capacity, productivity and even closure. Not to mention, the possibility of fines and repetitional damage, impacting your bottom line. To avoid such damage within the organisation, health and safety needs to become the responsibility of everyone within the business. To drive this forwards you will need a representative whose job it is to ensure best practice is followed and that staff are educated to a high standard in health and safety procedures. We also recommend getting outside support from an industry professional like we have for this campaign, working with Rachel Butler and Vicki Sutton."

Going home safely at the end of a work day is the most important thing, so that we an all spend the festive period without mishap or injury! For those looking to review and address their seasonal activities and any hazards they may pose, visit the GTSE blog where you will find additional advice.

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