Mike Bridge explores why it pays to be mindful of the human factors that accompany the cold, grey, damp days of winter.

As the days draw in, the clocks change and the mercury falls, we are often prompted to prepare for the first frosts.

While national road safety campaigns and workplace programmes highlight the physical safety factors associated with winter months, with the arrival of these seasonal changes it is also interesting to reflect on some human factors that accompany them.

Research suggests that lower temperatures can in fact increase human error.

Studies show that the human error rate rises sharply as tasks get more complex. For a simple task, such as putting numbers into a calculator, the error rate may be around 1 in 10,000, climbing  to around 1 in 20 for putting 10 numbers into a calculator.

As the long, lazy days of summer feel like a distant memory, winter stress levels can rise. When we are stressed, the error rate can creep to 1 in 4 or more.

Other factors, such as our concentration levels and attention span also come into play. Typically, at our best we concentrate for around 90% of the time, and attention span can be as low as 14 minutes. With the festive season approaching and the distractions this brings, there are many other factors that can take our attention away from the task in hand.

You can help employees reduce error by keeping tasks and equipment simple and helping to provide comfortable conditions in which to do them.

Equally important is being proactive around support, pressure, change, empowerment, care respect and fatigue before we build stress.

Lower light levels in winter also have a bearing on our health and wellbeing and links to mood and our mental state are well understood.

Light helps us produce vitamin D and serotonin, the body’s ‘feel good’ chemical. This is why people may suffer from the ‘winter blues’ or, for some, it can be linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is also converted to melatonin, which is linked to our circadian sleep-wake cycle. The NHS site gives guidance on when to seek help and what to expect.

Evening screen time can mess with your body clock

Research tells us that watching TV, looking at computers or mobiles can confuse your body about when it needs to sleep. The bluish light emitted by these screens restrains the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle.  It’s important to encourage workers to resist the temptation to check emails before bed and make sure you lead by example!

All of these seasonal challenges to staying alert and mindful nudge on the need for a team approach to safety.

Such a focus on working together, creating interdependent approaches that underpin great safety and business cultures is more than just a common-sense idea. Of course, no one has got eyes in the back of their head, so we all need to watch each other’s backs. In the light of these wider human factors, a shared understanding and action is something of a glorious gift. Helping to build cultures of together makes a real difference.