Some may think it’s the most beautiful time of the year, but it can be the most challenging for others. The cold months bring numerous work hazards in multiple industries — cold stress, hypothermia and even vehicle accidents.
With the proper preparation and presence of mind, employers can help their employees prevent these perils and perform their best at work. Discover these seven tips to help avoid accidents at the workplace.
Common Winter Workplace Hazards
The winter months can bring plenty of hazards to a workplace. For instance, slips, trips and falls account for 15% of all accidental deaths yearly and are the second-leading cause behind motor vehicles. With the increased likelihood of workplace accidents, it’s essential for employers to identify possible risks that may endanger their team.
Pay attention to these common winter illnesses and injuries:
- Slips, trips and falls: This is a significant winter hazard in any industry, resulting in bruises, broken limbs, severe injuries and even death.
- Trench foot: this happens when the foot cannot keep itself warm. The body tries to curb heat loss, which leads to constricted blood vessels and the death of skin tissue around the foot.
- Frostbite: This causes skin damage characterized by numbness, pain and skin discoloration.
- Chilblains: This condition involves itchy, painful and swollen patches on the skin that form after exposure to cold temperatures. While it doesn’t cause permanent tissue damage, it can result in an ulcer in severe cases.
- Hypothermia: Overexposure to cold weather conditions can trigger internal heat loss. Hypothermia can negatively affect brain function, which is alarming as a person might not recognize and address the symptoms immediately until it’s too late.
- Vehicle accidents: The cold months bring hazardous road conditions, such as sleet and slush, snow-covered roads and wet pavement — all of which contribute to road accidents.
7 Tips to Safeguard Workers in Job Site
While it’s impossible to avoid winter, there are proactive steps to keep employees safe from the perils of the cold weather.
1. Identify Potential Hazards
Employers must inspect their workplace — scan rooms, areas, sites and other places where tasks occur and people convene. Identify visible risks in active work areas, entrances, exits, walkways and on-site parking lots. Consider the hazards that may happen while staff are performing their duties.
2. Create a Safety Plan
Once identified, managers should communicate with staff to discuss present and potential risks, how to recognize them and what could be done to prevent them.
During winter months, employee safety is of primary importance. Depending on the size of your workforce, you may be required to follow the guidelines of OSHA or state regulators. However, even if not mandated to show proof of your plan, having a safety plan in place shows how much an employer values their employees. Getting buy-in from workers can also help improve the plan.
Relevant parts of the plan include:
- Contact information of employees and emergency contacts
- An evacuation plan for leaving the site or building
- Communication channels for relaying information and notifications
- Roles and responsibilities
- Supplies and equipment needed
3. Wear Proper Cold-Weather Gear
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers should provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for specific circumstances, such as fall protection. Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing for better insulation. Other recommended gear include a knit mask, insulated gloves, waterproof boots and a hat to protect employees from cold stress and injuries.
While worker visibility is important year-round, wearing reflective gear is especially essential in cold months, as there are fewer daylight hours. Business leaders should invest in reflective gear with electronic light-up features if employees work in the dark.
Workers should wear appropriate footwear with insulation and traction if working or walking in snow is unavoidable. When work involves walking in water, staff should wear waterproof boots. Employees are also advised to train their workers to walk slowly and surely to react quickly to changes in tractions.
4. Stay Healthy
Employers and managers should promote a healthy lifestyle to help their team stay in tip-top shape during cold months. Top wellness tips include the following:
- Eat carbohydrates and fat to boost warmth and energy before work.
- Stay hydrated at work at all times.
- Get enough sleep to increase focus, concentration and productivity.
- Remove wet clothes immediately to avoid heat loss and sickness.
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu.
- Manage dry skin — wear lip balm or use a humidifier to protect skin from dryness.
- Use a fitness watch to monitor your vital signs and mitigate health emergencies.
5. Provide a Warm Area for Breaks
Set up a heated area, such as an indoor area, trailer or tent, for outdoor workers to warm up from the cold. Employees should encourage staff to take frequent breaks to drink something warm and change clothing when needed.
Additionally, regular breaks can help people stay alert at work in case of an emergency. If they feel tired, they can have a safe, warm place to re-energize their mind and body, lowering their chances of getting harmed at work.
6. Encourage Proper Heavy Equipment Usage
The cold weather brings a lot of challenges to workers, especially outdoor employees. Heavy machinery is susceptible to hazardous winter conditions. For instance, when temperature decreases, steel crane and hoist capacity can significantly reduce. Construction site workers already risk their lives daily, but with four deaths occurring from crane-related incidents every month, preparation is essential.
Operating heavy equipment is different from working on dry ground. Going at slower-than-normal speeds is passable, especially during inclement weather, to allow longer reaction time for hazards. Appropriate lubrication is key to implementing regular operation, as the cold weather can reduce oil’s normal flow. Proper tire inflation is also required to avoid equipment damage.
7. Launch Safe Driving Practices
Driving to work is more challenging during winter, especially in snowy areas where snow can hit hard. Around 24% of weather-related vehicle accidents happen on snowy, slushy or icy roads and 15% occur during sleet or snowfall. Employers should communicate necessary precautions to ensure their employees commute to work safely this season.
Some driving precautions include keeping windshields clear, adding breaking time to exit freeways, paying more attention to the traffic flow and preparing a winter survival kit.
Stay Safe in Winter
During the cold weather, proactive preparation will help employers in any industry protect their employees from jobsite-related winter hazards. By understanding how winter can impact bodies and work, business leaders can better assess how they can help their staff still perform at their best in their best health.