Winter weather is in full swing, and with it comes the hazards of the cold. From frostbite to hypothermia, a variety of cold weather factors can result in injuries and even death on the job — not to mention OSHA citations and workers’ comp claims. Is your company’s safety program capable of addressing the cold weather? Have you put strategies in place to handle ice, extreme temperatures and other risk factors? Here are a few tips you might need for protecting your workers from cold weather dangers.
Foster Healthy Habits
Injuries abound in the cold weather, but so do germs. One of the best ways to keep your workers safe, happy and productive is to encourage healthy habits that prevent the spread of common winter illnesses. Hand washing and hand-sanitizer stations can go a long way to stop colds, flus and strep. If your jobsites contain cafeterias, you can also provide healthy meals to boost employees’ immune systems. And when workers do get sick, encouraging or even requiring them to take days off will curb the spread of germs and help you avoid major losses in productivity.
Schedule Frequent Breaks
If your employees are spending most of their days outside, frequent breaks will be just as important as they are during the summer — if not more so. Hypothermia can set in fast, and workers need to be able to retreat to warm, safe spots several times per day. When they do take breaks, they should check themselves and their co-workers for signs of frostbite, exhaustion and other dangers.
Keep a Tight Schedule
Working in the cold may be unavoidable, but your employees shouldn’t be outside during the coldest, most dangerous parts of the day. Shorten workdays if necessary, and schedule outdoor tasks during the warmer afternoon hours. A shorter, tighter schedule may seem to threaten your bottom line, but productivity will drop far faster if workers sustain cold-related injuries.
Provide Engineering Controls
According to OSHA, “Engineering controls can be effective at reducing the risk of cold stress … radiant heaters may be used to warm workplaces like outdoor security stations. If possible, employers should shield workers from drafts or wind to reduce wind chill.” You might also allow workers to control aerial lifts or ladders to de-ice materials and work surfaces. In general, it’s important to provide workers with the means to keep themselves warm and mitigate cold-related hazards.
Create a Shutdown Checklist
The holidays are behind us, but with dangerous conditions and regular winter slowdowns, some companies will still be temporarily shutting down. Whether you’re closing up shop for a few days, a week or a month, there are several measures you should take to ensure everyone stays safe once they come back:
- Ensure access to safety materials
- Display clear warning signs
- Take a thorough inventory
- Inspect and repair cold-damaged equipment
- Check all safety gear and personal protective equipment
- Conduct safety training upon return
Find Your Biggest Problem Areas
Last but certainly not least, one of the best ways to prevent accidents and illnesses in the winter weather is to track incidents and identify major problem areas within your company. Every organization and worksite has different hazards, and every group of employees has different tendencies and susceptibilities. To reach that coveted zero-incident goal, you’ll need to track and monitor accidents over months and years.
Of course, recording and tracking incidents by hand is time-consuming and error-prone. To reliably monitor the accidents and illnesses at your worksites, consider implementing a digital Incident and Reporting and Investigation Tool.