Weather Your Winter Hazards with Confidence!

Weather Your Winter Hazards with Confidence!

Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population lives in regions that receive five or more inches of snow annually. And while that cold weather impacts outdoor jobs—construction as well as transport—the work doesn’t stop. 

With that in mind, preparing for the onset of cold weather is often best done before the potential hazards arrive—because, ultimately, as temps drop, hazards increase. 

First and foremost, three areas to pay close attention to when preparing for work during the colder months include:

Clothing—workers who spend most or all of their day outside should follow these clothing tips: Layer for better insulation—remove or add layers as needed; wear a hat to cover head and ears; keep gloves handy as temperatures and conditions dictate; and keep the feet dry with insulated, waterproof boots. 

Vehicles—workers should take the necessary precautions for preparing their personal or work vehicles for winter: Check the battery and replace it if necessary; use snow tires or keep tire chains handy; ensure coolant levels are on balance—a 50/50 mix of water to anti-freeze; and stock vehicles with survival supplies (non-perishable foods, blanket, flashlight, gloves, ice scraper, first aid). 

Outdoor worksites—take measures to ensure these sites are safe in colder months: Clear walkways, platforms, and scaffolds of snow and ice; store materials on pallets to prevent them from sticking or freezing to the ground; use portable heaters to keep warm; and designate an area where workers can go to warm up during the day.

Without a doubt, through appropriate preparation, the impact of cold weather on working safety conditions can be handled and mitigated. However, all the preparation in the world won’t prevent major weather events like blizzards from creating potentially hazardous situations. Keep an eye on local weather conditions and listen to state and local authorities regarding such occurrences.

Ultimate Responsibility

On the legal end of things, employers are expected to protect workers from the hazards of cold exposure, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970. That said, cold-related illnesses and injuries such as chilblains, trench foot, frostbite, or hypothermia (detailed in this Occupational Safety & Health article) can be avoided with responsible adherence to safe procedures.

In addition to the earlier safety tips, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends employers implement a cold-related illness and injury prevention program—which starts with a checklist like this: 

  • Train workers to prevent, recognize, and treat cold stress illnesses and injuries
  • Provide all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep skin dry and warm
  • Check that all workers have access to warm break areas
  • Require the buddy system so workers can monitor each other for cold stress signs
  • Keep plenty of warm liquids available to prevent dehydration
  • Ensure workers know how snow and ice should be removed from surfaces and buildings based on project layouts and load limits
  • Require proper fall protection equipment
  • Provide additional training for employees with vehicle and transport duties to prevent accidents on dangerous road surfaces
  • Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters to warm workers in outdoor security stations, and shields to reduce wind chill from drafts
  • Monitor that everyone working in icy, snowy, or wet conditions takes short steps and walks at a slower pace
  • Ensure work zones are clearly identified by signs, cones, and barriers

Locations where hazardous events might be most prevalent should also be identified. These would include spots with previous incident records, as well. Safety managers should heavily inspect these locations and consider how changing environmental conditions might affect how well an individual can traverse the area safely.

As is always the case, it’s the ultimate responsibility of the employer to ensure the safety of workers and keep them protected in any kind of weather—especially during the cold months.

For additional assistance on how to develop a safety program or safety training, contact your Risk Management partners at NBIS today. We’ll help you weather winter with confidence!