In the Bleak Mid Winter

By | 3 December 2013

Are we going to be … In the Bleak Mid Winter

Snowy branchesIt is that time of year again, when papers and news reports start scaring us with speculations about what the weather will do over the winter period. The front page of the Daily Express (Sunday 12th October) claimed: ‘Worst winter for decades: record breaking snow predicted for November’ which, thankfully, didn’t arrive as predicted (or not in the Oxford area anyway) but at least it has drawn our attention to the need for all of us to be prepared for the worst

This year we have also been warned that the risk of electricity shortages over winter is at its highest level for nearly 10 years. The National Grid has warned that in a cold winter the UK’s electricity “margin”, or safety buffer, would be just 5% – almost half last year’s level and the lowest since 2007. They said, however, that in the event of potential shortfalls industrial users of electricity would be the first to face usage restrictions, and they are confident that extra energy would flow from the Continent if the country risked a supply shortage

Lonely snowman

photo by Mike Legend via Flickr. Creative Commons

At the same time, however, the increase in electricity bills by four of the big six energy companies, has caused a jump of almost 10% in the cost of heating our homes, which may cause enormous hardship to the elderly. And if a person can’t afford to keep themselves warm, and they are old or frail, they are more likely to become ill and need to avail themselves of an already stretched healthcare service. On average 24,000 ‘extra‘ deaths occur in winter in the UK every year as a result of the cold temperatures, and figures for last year were even higher. In an attempt to prepare for some of the difficulties and help avoid some of the problems,  Public Health England (PHE) has published its Cold Weather Plan, alerting local authorities, the NHS, individuals and communities to interventions which can help prevent cold-related illnesses, before the cold weather sets in. And the Winter Health Watch website will bring together PHE’s weekly monitoring of winter related illnesses and threats. As the elderly, and those with long term illnesses, are particularly at risk during the winter months, it is crucial that we all keep an eye out for, or find time to check up on, those who may be vulnerable.

Severe weather policies at work

NoSnowmobilesMeanwhile, for those of us trying to continue to work or study through severe weather conditions, there are issues arising from adverse weather – such as days when roads are blocked or public transport disrupted, or issues in the workplace which make it difficult or impossible for businesses to open or services to operate – we need to be aware of, so that we understand our rights and the employment law which applies in such situations.

The snow chaos and employment law guide, written in January 2010, is based on UK law and is a useful pointer to all of the sticky (or slippery?) issues around getting to and being at work when the weather is harsh or the conditions treacherous. As it seems the UK is beset by ‘unexpected’ snowy weather every year, all employers should consider introducing an ‘adverse weather policy’ to ensure their employees know what is expected of them if/when severe weather strikes. The policy should contain guidance about: workplace closures, disruptions in transport services, school closures and childcare arrangements, working from home and remote IT access, whether employees will be paid if they fail to attend work, disciplinary sanctions for ‘snowball’ days, and whom employees should contact once they know they are unable to make it in.

The Bodleian Libraries’ ‘Severe weather policy’ is stored as a pdf in the HR section of our staff intranet, and updated regularly (especially at this time of year) with notices to all staff. This way, we are kept up to date on University policy as well as local forecasts so that we can be prepared for difficulties should extreme weather arrive (again). While we will always attempt to staff the library and keep it open at the specified times, in severe conditions we do ask you to keep an eye on our webpage notices, drop us an email or give us a call,  or check our social media – Twitter, Blog or Facebook – in case our services or opening hours are affected.

penguinsRemember, too,  that a lot of resources are available electronically in the comfort and safety of your own home, huddled cosily around a heat-transmitting PC, or with a warm laptop on your knee. And the Met Office five day forecasts and warnings provide guidance on periods of cold weather or the likelihood of snow, as well as giving detailed local information across the UK, to help you make plans for the winter months

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