By Stephen Thomas, Health & Safety Consultant at Croner

Each year, the media delight in stories of end of year festivities ruined by ‘elf’ and safety. While many of the stories are born out of myth or excuse making, it is worth taking some simple precautions early on to protect your staff and your business from significant safety risks, i.e. those that are actually likely to cause harm to employees and others.

Deck the halls with bells and holly

Some media reports suggest that Christmas decorations be banned in the workplace in order to comply with health and safety law. In reality there is no such legislation but if you decide to decorate your office, there are a few common sense precautions to consider:

- Decorations such as traditional paper chains should be kept well away from any source of heat.

- Ensure that decorations are securely fastened – security systems that use motion sensors have been known to be triggered by falling decorations!

- Check that all items of electrical equipment are suitable for use in the workplace, even temporary decorations such as fairy lights. Equipment should carry an appropriate CE mark.

- Try to avoid the use of extension leads with trailing cables wherever possible because of the additional tripping and damage hazards that could arise. Do not allow electrical leads to be ‘daisy chained’.

Drink and be merry?

Excessive alcohol consumption and/or insufficient sleep over the party season can mean that a person’s ability to perform their work is reduced. Following a heavy night, an employee’s ability to drive may be significantly affected the morning after. This is bad not only for occupational drivers but also any employee who commutes to work by car.

While employers cannot govern what an employee does outside of work, promoting sensible eating, moderate alcohol consumption and taking regular exercise is advisable, but of course this is often the last thing on people’s minds! Nevertheless if you have employees that use potentially dangerous equipment, then there may be serious safety implications if they operate it while intoxicated or hung over and a strong line should be taken.

Make sure your company policy on alcohol and substance abuse is up to date and communicated to your employees. Unless you hold an organised party, it would seem best to ban alcohol from company premises completely. Managers must be made aware that they have a responsibility to control events so that neither the law nor the employer’s rules are breached. The consumption of alcohol brings the risk of unsafe behaviour and can lead to employees driving home under the influence of drink.

Don’t stress!

Christmas can be a stressful time of the year at the best of times, let alone when someone is struggling with other personal issues such as relationships, debt or health worries. If possible try to allow a little more leeway for deadlines and flexible working around the festive season.

White Christmas?

Although our chances of actually having a white Christmas are normally slim, each year the UK tends to get ‘caught out’ by snow at some point over winter. Make sure you have a suitable stock of grit to deal with ice and snow on your premises. If you decide to be a ‘Good Samaritan’ and clear public pathways near your site, just be sure to do it properly.

In terms of driving, make sure you have an inclement weather policy in place. Consider letting people work from home and have meetings by conference call/video conferencing if possible. Provide and promote details of how to drive sensibly in icy and snowy conditions.

By combining forethought and sensible risk management we can all enjoy a safe and happy Christmas.

Find out how to keep your business and employees safe at www.cronersolutions.co.uk/Health_Safety.html