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Nov 2016

Let it Snow: Cold winter weather and workplace safety


Snow cleaning machine working on ski slope

For some, the winter months signal the retreat to balmy southern states- such as Florida. However, those that aren’t retired are required to stay ‘up north’, and face the onslaught of winter weather. This winter, don’t let workers suffer any more than they already have to. Prepare your workplace for the hazards winter sweeps in with chilled winds and buffeting snow.

Winter road Hazards

Winter brings cold air, and cold air brings snow and ice. As a whole, winter presents a number of hazardous conditions, and can increase the risk of already hazardous activities. Overall, winter is a time to slow down, take your time, and plan ahead.

First and foremost, winter weather can seriously effect road conditions. On the first snowy day of the season, drivers are 14% more likely to be in a fatal automobile accident. However, after the first day of snow, drivers are less likely to be involved in a fatal accident (than, say, on a summer day). However, the chances for a fender bender occurring increased significantly.

Employers who have workers on the road need to address the increased driving hazard during the winter months. Employees who drive alone, or work in somewhat isolated areas, should be especially prepared for an emergency. For example, the Washington State Department of Transportation suggests that drivers keep an emergency kit containing a flashlight, blanket, non-perishable food, batteries, gloves, boots, and other items that may come in handy when stranded. A small shovel, matches, and knife are also tools that can come in handy during a survival situation. 

Additionally, workers who spend their day on the road, such as delivery drivers, should be extra cautious of poor road conditions. Employers should remind their employees of the hazards winter weather can create on the roadways. Defensive driving techniques should be instilled in employees who drive for their occupation. Drivers should take their time, and avoid rushing. 

Chilled out

Employees who spend their day working outdoors in extreme cold, such as utility workers, are at risk of cold-related illnesses - like hypothermia and frostbite. Employers need to stress the importance of weather-appropriate attire. Employees should be outfitted with gloves, hats, masks, and any other articles of clothing that will protect against the elements.

Cold-related illnesses are the result of poor insulation and prolonged exposure to below-freezing temperatures. Different regions across the country may have somewhat different criteria for determining dangerously cold conditions due to climate. So, proper accommodations will look differently for areas in conjunction with their geography. The important thing is that employers realize the potential for cold-related illnesses, and act accordingly.

Slips, Trips, and Falls

Once again, the top culprits for workplace injuries rear their ugly heads. Slips, trips, and falls are dangerous enough in the middle of summer. However, add ice and snow to that mix and things get even more dicey. Employers need to make clearing ice a priority. Not only for employees who walk around the workplace, but also for customers, passersby, and even the mailman! Workers who spend time outside of the workplace – making deliveries, house-calls, etc.- need to be extra aware of treacherous footing. Just like for driving, take the time to move carefully and don’t rush.

The winter months bring many wonderful holidays, family events, and memories. However, there is a dark side to every good thing, and winter certainly has a dark side. Make sure your workplace is prepared to handle any hazard winter might whip up. Make sure employees are mentally prepared, and have the training and skills they need to avoid an accident in the snow. Start today. Remember, winter is coming!

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