Written by Daniel Aday, CompOne Administrators Safety & Loss Prevention Specialist
Hazards, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are anything that can cause immediate accidents and injuries. However, hazards are sometimes hidden or not always easily recognizable until an accident occurs. One thing that can contribute to hidden hazards is the weather, and winter is the biggest culprit. Winter brings cold weather, snow, ice and sometimes even a tendency for people to cut corners in order to save time and energy. All of these contribute to unsafe workplaces and, of course, hazards! Taking the time now to identify and address these winter hazards now, may save you from an accident and injuries later, starting with property hazards, PPE and gear hazards and administrative controls.
Preparing your property, jobsite, location, building, or wherever people may be, for winter is fairly simple in theory, but takes a continuous effort to ensure that there is minimal chance for accidents to occur. Ensure all company vehicles are in well maintained shape; have your company vehicles be inspected by a mechanic and any repairs are made, ensuring that employees won’t be stranded on the side of the road during winter.
Additionally, carbon monoxide detectors should be inspected. Carbon monoxide injuries and deaths greatly increase during the winter months. Set up a maintenance schedule to inspect and replace CO monitors per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Also, ensure salt or other traction or de-icing surface substances are distributed and people have access to them if ice is noticed. This is also a great time to ensure that egress doors are being shoveled and cleared after each snow event, as to not trap anyone side in the event of a fire and the evacuee cannot open an egress door due to snow being pushed on the back side.
With colder temps, it is easy to forget that gloves, hats, and proper footwear are all considered winter PPE (personal protective equipment). Ensure that you supply appropriate protective gear to those who need it. Not all winter gloves are made equally, and some might be better suited for some tasks but bad for other task. Water resistant gloves are a must when handling anything that may come in contact with ice, snow, or water, as water-logged gloves may make your hands colder while working. Warmer gloves typically mean less dexterity and may be taken off more often to do more precise task. Finding a good happy-medium is best for gloves, that balance dexterity, warmth, and of course, protection. Additionally, having a good set of footwear could mean the difference between going a full winter without any slips, to having several slip-related injuries. A good set of winter shoes or boots will have deep tread, a good heel and be waterproof. If you find that you are slipping or losing traction a lot while walking outside, or notice that there is ice, it is always a good idea to have a set of ice cleats (sometimes called snow grips, yak tracks, traction cleats, etc.) that you can throw on. Ice cleats turn icy conditions into pure grip! Just make sure you take them off before walking on tile or hard surfaces, as that may cause an incident itself!
Administrative controls could be considered one of the most important in ensuring continual safety throughout the winter. When snow is expected to fall or temperatures are expected to drop and ice may occur, ensure employees are putting out salt in front of doors, and shovels are accessible. Periodically check on employee’s PPE to ensure everything is still in good condition. Employee PPE is a critical part in protecting employees from weather-related hazards, and unfortunately, sometimes need to be closely monitored to ensure PPE is worn correctly and appropriately when hazards present themselves. Additionally, understand the work stressors that your employees endure during the winter time. The cold air mixed with the extra layers of clothing can quickly burn energy which makes any outdoor task immediately harder. Additionally, if not wearing breathable material, employees may begin to sweat which may lead to cold-related injuries such as hypothermia. If possible, layer up if working in the cold. Allow employees, who spend time working outdoors, more time to take breaks.