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Safety Management Insights

9 ways to keep employees safe from cold weather work conditions

Posted by Doug Shoemaker on Dec 5, 2016 8:30:00 AM

outdoor-workers-winter.jpgWinter brings some of the most dangerous conditions for outdoor workers. Freezing temperatures come with new cold weather work hazards that can be mitigated by the employer and/or their occupational safety team. Although you may not be able to control the weather, you can still control the risk that employees face during the freezing months. Do you know the best work practices to keep your employees safe during cold weather?

Keep your employees safe and healthy with these 9 cold weather work tips.

Cold Weather Work Hazards Around Buildings

1. Ice and snow build up around walking areas such as parking lots, walkways, and entryways pose an obvious danger to employees and customers alike. Clearing these areas should be your first priority in order to reduce slips, trips, and falls. It is also a good idea to place absorbent mats at entrances as well as Caution: Slippery Floor signs on slick areas.

2. Delivery drivers, loaders, and others who are working in the ice and snow or are exposed to wind chill should be instructed to wear slip resistant shoes or boots, or at the very least, shoes with good traction. Remind workers that it is good practice to take shorter steps and walk slower when the ground is obviously slippery. It’s also not a bad idea to remind workers who may not spend much time in the low air temperature outside to keep a pair of rubber overshoes with good treads at their desk or in their locker just in case the need arises.

3. Be sure to shovel snow safely to avoid back injuries, exhaustion, or exacerbating existing health problems. Shoveling snow is a strenuous activity and cold weather is already very taxing on the body.  It's always a good idea to use equipment such as plows or snow blowers if they are available to you. If they are not available, push snow where possible, rather than lifting it, and use proper lifting technique moving minimal amounts of snow. Breaks in warm areas should also be encouraged. 

If your company does have snow removal equipment such as snow blowers, remind workers to ensure the equipment is properly grounded to protect from electrical shocks or electrocutions. Engineering controls are extra important when working with any powered equipment that has the potential to injure an employee. To avoid other injuries related to snow removal equipment:

  • Never try to clear a jam by hand.
  • Turn the equipment off and wait for all moving parts to stop.
  • Use a long stick to clear snow or debris from the equipment.
  • Keep body parts away from moving equipment.
  • Never attempt to fuel the equipment while it’s running.

4. If snow must be removed at heights always be aware of potential hazards including inbound weather. Snow covered rooftops always present a potential fall hazard but may also have hidden things like skylights, electrical (powerlines), or black ice that make safe work more difficult. Additionally, any surface weighted down by snow should be inspected by your occupational safety team prior to workers accessing it to determine whether or not it is structurally safe. If you cannot safely assess it, attempt to use techniques that do not involve workers getting on roofs. It's also not a bad idea to have an outside occupational safety specialist evaluate the area prior to attempting work.

5. The use of ladders on snowy and icy surfaces, especially if there is high wind speed, can be very hazardous. Be sure that before a ladder is set up, a level area has been cleared of snow and ice. Workers using the ladder should be trained in personal fall arrest systems and methods before beginning work. You should also provide all necessary PPE, ladders, and lifts to complete the job safely.

Cold Weather Hazards on the Road

6. You may not be able to control the road conditions or air temperature in the winter, but you can support safe driving behavior. Provide training to all employees that will be working on the road or that will be operating equipment on snowy or icy roads. It’s very important that all vehicles and equipment are well maintained for the winter months so that they operate correctly and safely. Regular inspections should also take place to determine that vehicles and equipment are operating correctly, or make repairs if they are not.

If you have workers that are going to be on the road in winter driving conditions be sure they have access to a cell phone and are carrying an emergency kit that includes the following items-13 items to include in winter emergency road kit

  • Two-way radio
  • Windshield ice scraper and snow brush
  • Shovel
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Tow chain
  • Traction aids such as sand bags
  • Emergency flares
  • First aid kit
  • Jumper cables
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Physical map
  • Protection from cold air temperature such as blankets and extra clothing

Wind chill temperature is a major concern for employees who may get stranded, and preparedness is the only way to help prevent cold stress and mitigate hazards related to prolonged exposure to the cold.

7. If a worker may be stranded in a vehicle, they should be trained to follow these steps-

  • Stay in the vehicle unless help is visible within 100 yards
  • Call emergency services if needed
  • Notify their supervisor
  • Hang brightly colored cloth on the antenna and raise the vehicle hood
  • Run the engine about 10 minutes every hour and run the heat (be sure exhaust pipe is clear and keep downwind window slightly open)
  • When the engine is running, turn on the dome light
  • Do minor exercises and watch for signs of frostbite
  • Stay awake
  • Use blankets, newspapers, or even car mats for added insulation
  • Avoid overexertion

Workers should be aware of the dangers of cold stress and those associated with low body temperature. Wind speeds in cold environments will decrease body temperature at a much higher rate than just low environmental temperature alone.

Environmental Freezing Weather Work Hazards

8. Winter storms can come with wind speeds that cause serious environmental hazards including downed trees and powerlines. When clearing out downed trees be sure that workers are aware of power lines they may be in contact with, are familiar with working at heights, and are trained to avoid injuries with chain saws and wood chippers. Protect workers by providing them with the proper training as well as PPE like gloves, chaps, foot protection, fall protection, and protection for eyes, ears, and head. Beyond just the safety equipment, be sure employees are protected from cold stress that may be caused by lower wind chill temperature by wearing warm clothing.

If employees will be working near downed or damaged power lines, train them to assume all power lines are live. Only properly trained electrical utility workers should be working with damaged power lines, especially if winter weather or high wind speeds are involved.

Preparing Employees for Winter Weather Hazards

9. Keep employees protected from cold stress and cold environments with these safety measures provided by EHS Today-

  • Eat plenty of calories for energy and body heat prior to starting work
  • Stay hydrated
  • Get enough sleep- cold temperatures make work harder and it cannot be done safely with only a few hours of sleep
  • Remove wet clothing immediately to prevent low body temperature and impaired movement
  • Insulate head and neck well
  • Wear proper winter clothing that will protect from the cold environment and high wind speed (don't wear cotton directly on the body)
  • Protect feet and toes with two layers of socks and well fitted, above the ankle, boots
  • Protect hands with good gloves and hand warmers if possible

A big part of being prepared for a cold environment is having cold stress training and other safety training up to date. Provide your industrial hygienists and other safety workers the tools they need with the use of a training management tool like this that keeps employees and your occupational safety team up to date!

JSA Quick Tips Whitepaper