Winter is one of the most challenging seasons for employees, and not just for those who work outdoors. Freezing temperatures, ice, sleet, snow, and howling winds pose safety hazards simply moving from a parking lot to the front door of your workplace, to say nothing of the effects of cold weather on road crews, long-distance drivers, utility crews, and oil and gas workers. The following winter safety tips for employees help reduce accidents while protecting against the worst Old Man Winter can throw at you.
Preventing Frostbite, Hypothermia, and Trench Foot
Working outdoors in cold, damp weather increases your risk of hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. The risk of these conditions is reduced by wearing appropriate workwear, promptly changing out of wet or damp clothes, taking frequent breaks in warm indoor locations, and drinking warm beverages.
Properly layering winter work clothes reduces the risk of hypothermia while allowing the wearer the option of adding or removing clothing depending on the temperature. Here’s how to correctly layer clothing for outdoor winter work:
- Start with a base layer: For the layer closest to the skin, choose clothing that wicks sweat and moisture away from the body. Polypropylene long johns are often used as base layers.
- Add the first insulating layer: The second layer should be warm but lightweight. Thin woolen sweaters or fleece pullovers are often used for this layer.
- Add a heavier insulating layer: Continue layering with a thick wool sweater or heavy fleece you can remove or put it on in response to changing temperatures.
- A wind and waterproof layer: Finish up with a nylon jacket to block the elements and keep lower layers dry.
Frostbite can target any body part, but the extremities are most vulnerable. Thermal gloves, a hat, some form of face covering, and socks all protect the extremities. Woolen socks are a better choice than cotton, as wool pulls moisture away from the skin while wet cotton pulls heat from the body.
Winter Fall Protection
While falls are a year-round risk at most worksites, winter greatly increases the danger of a serious fall, slip, or trip. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, every year sees 42,480 workplace injuries require at least one day off work due to accidents involving snow, ice, and sleet. The vast majority — 82% — are due to falls on the same level (as opposed to falling from a height or through a surface).
Winter safety tips for employees who want to protect against falls include:
- Prevent ice and snow buildup on walkways, parking spaces, and outdoor break areas with regular snow shoveling and the use of salt or other de-icers.
- Avoid lifting heavy loads that can offset your balance, especially in icy conditions.
- Remove melted snow and ice from entryways immediately.
- Mark slippy and hazardous areas with temporary cones, signs, and barricades.
- Wear footwear with heavy treads when outside.
- When walkways are slick with ice, grass may be a safer surface to walk on.
- Avoid walking outside with your hands in your pockets: You won’t be able to use them to break your fall if you slip.
- Watch for signs of black ice.
- Be cautious when entering buildings: Melted snow can make entrances slippery.
For more information on preventing trips and falls, check out OSHA Fall Protection Requirements
Winter Safety Tips for Employees Who Drive
Winter driving can be treacherous and requires employees to take precautions. Before setting out, drivers should check local weather conditions, and personally inspect the vehicle’s brakes, engine, exhaust system, cooling system, and electrical system for possible problems.
To better handle potential skids on icy roads, employees must understand their vehicle’s brakes. You stomp on anti-lock brakes, while you pump non-anti lock brakes. Should the vehicle start to skid on ice, steer into the skid rather than fight it, and remember stopping distances increase when you’re driving on ice or water-covered ice.
Drivers should take extra care exiting and entering vehicles in winter conditions, both because slips and falls are more likely and because other drivers may have reduced visibility or be unable to stop.
Carbon monoxide buildup is a concern in the winter. Drivers can reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by avoiding idling for long periods with their windows up or idling in enclosed spaces.
A breakdown on a warm summer’s night is an inconvenience. A breakdown on a winter’s night in a blizzard or in freezing temperatures can be dangerous. All drivers should carry an emergency kit that includes:
- Spare cell phone or two-way radio
- windshield ice scraper
- Flashlight and batteries
- Tow chain
- Roadside flares
- Snacks and water
- Jumper cables
- Warm blanket
- Change of clothing
- Bag of sand or cat litter for traction
Need to help your employees stay safe? TPC Training’s Winter Safety seminar covers everything from surviving the cold to the safe use of holiday decorations.