Before the cold winter months, it’s wise to take extra precautions to prevent worker injuries and illnesses resulting from ice, snow and cold temperature conditions.
According to the CDC, winter weather kills more than twice as many Americans than summer heat. Consider these winter weather-related injury statistics:
- Over 116,000 people in the U.S. are injured and more than 1,300 are killed on snowy, slushy or icy roads every winter.
- 24 percent of weather-related vehicle crashes happen on snowy, slushy or icy roads annually.
- 1 million Americans are injured due to slip and fall injuries annually, and the risk increases dramatically during winter months.
- Slips and falls, while not the main cause of fatal workplace injuries, represent the primary cause of lost days from work.
- Approximately 1,301 Americans die from hypothermia annually.
Even though employers cannot control winter weather conditions, they can take specific actions to keep their workers safe when working in these conditions. Consider the following OSHA-recommended practices for your injury prevention program:
Driving in Winter Weather
- Provide training so workers recognize the hazards of driving in winter weather (e.g., on snow and ice-covered roads).
- Set and enforce policies for safe, defensive driving.
- Implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate, which should include brakes, cooling system, electrical system, engine, exhaust system, oil, tires, and visibility systems (i.e., exterior lights, defrosters, and wipers).
- Equip vehicles with an adequate emergency kit (www.ready.gov/car) and additional warm clothing such as hats, gloves/mittens, etc.
- If stranded in a vehicle, stay in the vehicle, turn on its four-way hazard lights, and call for emergency assistance. Increasingly, persons are fatality injured when struck by passing vehicles while standing or working in road right of ways. In winter weather, motorists are even more likely to lose control of their vehicles due to snow and/or ice-covered roads.
Clearing Snow from Roofs and Working at Heights
- Evaluate snow removal tasks for hazards and plan how to do the work safely. A surface that is weighed down with snow must be inspected by a competent person to determine if its structurally safe to access. Snow covered roof tops can hide hazards such as skylights that workers can fall through. Electrical hazards may also exist from overhead power lines.
- Employers should determine the right type of equipment (e.g., ladders, aerial lifts, etc.) and personal protective equipment (e.g., personal fall arrest systems, non-slip safety boots, etc.) for each job and that workers are trained to properly use them.
Walking on Snow and Ice
- To prevent slips, trips, and falls, employers should clear walking surfaces of snow and ice, and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm.
- Train workers to take short steps and walk at a slower pace so they can react quickly to a change in traction, when walking on an icy or snow-covered walkway.
- Require use of proper footwear when walking on snow or ice is unavoidable. A pair of insulated and water-resistant boots with good rubber treads is a must for walking during or after a winter storm. Additionally, traction cleats, designed to fit over footwear, are available in different styles to ensure workers stay sure-footed.
For additional winter weather safety practices, prevention and treatment of frostbite and hypothermia, and more, see OSHA’s Winter Weather resource page.
Should you require assistance with incorporating winter weather safety into your injury prevention program, please contact Gary L. Smith, CRM, CSRM, MLIR, Director of Risk Control at (517) 338-3367 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
OSHA Winter Weather – Plan. Equip. Train. at www.osha.gov/dts/weather/winter_weather/additional.html
CDC Winter Weather at www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/index.html.
DHS Car Safety at www.ready.gov/car.