According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), snow and winter weather poses an increased risk to workers performing outdoor jobs and those entering and leaving the workplace as well. While employees face the same risk as everyone else from winter roads and traffic, those working outdoors suffer from higher incidences of weather related complaints and accidents related to slippery conditions and reduced visibility.
Worker Safety Tips for Winter Weather
Recognize cold weather stress: Outdoor workers face a significant health risk when exposed to cold weather or winter storms. Warm gear is essential and gloves, head and face protection is a must. In addition to the risk of frostbite and hypothermia, outdoor workers with existing health conditions like diabetes may be at a higher risk for compllicati0ons during the coldest days of the year. Scheduling work for the warmest part of the day, offering a warm, dry shelter from the cold and training workers to recognize the signs of cold stress in themselves and others can help reduce the risk.
Driving and traffic related risks increase in the cold: Slippery roads, poor visibility and typical winter roadway hazards impact workers in several ways. Those driving company vehicles or working on the road need to be aware of the increased risk on the roadways, while workers performing outdoor jobs should dress in warm layers and high visibility gear for added safety in snowy weather.
Improving facility safety: Even employees who are not regularly involved in grounds maintenance can be impacted by a winter storm as they arrive or depart your facility. Clearing sidewalks and on-site roadways can reduce the risk of slips and falls; chemical snowmelt or sand products may help as well. Installing rubber mats and non-skid flooring inside exterior doorways and on exterior steps can cut the risk of falls as well. According to OSHA, proper training for employees regarding safe winter footwear and the right way to walk in snow and ice can boost facility safety for all workers.
Safe snow removal: From downed power lines to overexertion, the actual act of removing snow from your facility or grounds can be a hazard for your workers. In periods of heavy snowfall, downed power lines pose a significant risk for anyone removing snow from the roadway around your facility. Workers using snow blowers and other power equipment need to make sure the equipment is in good repair and properly grounded before use. Checking on equipment before the first snowfall and ensuring that all gear is in working condition can help reduce the risk of electrocution. OSHA recommends restricting the use of equipment like snow blowers and chainsaws (for the removal of downed trees and limbs) to trained personnel only.
Workers using shovels to manually clear snow have an increased risk of cold weather injuries, including hypothermia and frostbite. Workers who are unaccustomed to heavy exercise may be at an increased risk of heart attack or other complications due to the strenuous nature of snow removal.
Preparing your workforce for poor conditions can boost safety and reduce your employee risk of injury and illness. Advanced preparation, the proper equipment and the right training can protect your staff and keep your facility safe for employees and visitors.