Take your thermal break

Cold can kill

Reading time: 4 min

When people think of frostbite they picture arctic explorers – but for many workers in the frozen food industry this is a very real hazard that can cause permanent damage.

A Unite health and safety rep is calling on workers to use their rights, or face being left out in the cold when it comes to safety.

Paul Swindells, a truck driver for Iceland GXO Swindon, has highlighted the issue of workers not taking their thermal comfort breaks, and the health problems this can lead to.

Paul explained. “The main area that members, and other colleagues, struggle with taking their breaks is based around productivity. The rate at which colleagues have to work is so high that they are unable to take all their breaks, some take none at all.”

There are a number of health problems that can arise if workers don’t take their thermal breaks, many of which Paul has witnessed first-hand. “Other than the obvious frost bite and nip we have had cases of hypothermia. There are circulatory issues and concerns around the ability to concentrate fully while driving machinery.”

The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) offers guidance for the welfare of workers exposed to low temperatures for extended periods, saying that frequent breaks must be in place to “allow workers adequate re-warming” with the employer providing “suitable thermal protective clothing and warming rooms with drinks dispensers.”

The BFFF also points out that comprehensive risk assessments should be carried out that “take into account many factors including the individual, the work activity and the temperature of the working environment.”

The law says employers must carry out the risk assessments, but trade union health and safety reps have the right to be consulted and check them over.

Paul says no one is prevented from taking warm up breaks, but they are not compulsory. He wants the law tightened and has been gathering evidence to back his call.

“Current law only states that adequate breaks should be provided but says nothing about what they should be, or them being compulsory, leaving a loophole for employers.

“I have conducted a survey that asks colleagues how many breaks they take per 8-hour shift and why they miss any of their breaks, combining this with the employers’ statistics.

“This issue puts colleagues at risk both in the long and short term. We need stronger laws.”

Is it frostbite?


You feel “pins and needles”, throbbing or aching in the affected area. Skin will become cold, numb and white, and sometimes a tingling sensation.

Superficial frostbite

Affected area feel hard and frozen. Out of the cold, tissue will thaw and skin can be painful, red and blistered. May swell and itch. Needs to be treated.

Deep frostbite

If exposure continues skin becomes white, blue or blotchy and tissue feels hard and cold to touch. Damage spreads to tendons, muscles, nerves and bones. GET URGENT MEDICAL ATTENTION.

As skin thaws blood-filled blisters form, turning into black scabs. Deep frostbite will likely result in tissue dying and affected area may need to be removed.

If in doubt get medical help


The British Frozen Food Federation (BFFF) – https://bfff.co.uk/

By Keith Hatch

This feature first appeared in the latest, the Winter 2023 edition of Landworker. Hard copies are available from your Unite regional office and a digital version will be available from next week on the Unite website, Food Drink and Agriculture page.