The cold bite of winter can put employees at risk and limit their ability to perform their jobs. Although many employees spend their work days indoors in an office, manufacturing or retail setting, many companies have all or a portion of their workers outside, sometimes in bitter cold.
As we await yet another winter blizzard today and given the potential risks to your employees, like hypothermia and frostbite, AIM has developed a checklist to help you and your employees get through the winter safely.
While there are no specific regulations, the General Duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health law requires employers to furnish employees with a place of employment free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Cold conditions may pose a safety hazard in some situations.
This checklist may be used as a training tool for employees who encounter these duties/environments during the winter months.
Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity and has the potential to cause exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, and heart attacks. Reduce the risk by:
- taking frequent breaks in warm dry places;
- drinking plenty of fluids (while avoiding ones with caffeine or alcohol);
- warming up before starting;
- scooping small amounts of snow at a time;
- pushing the snow instead of lifting where possible; and
- using proper form if lifting is necessary - keep the back straight and lift with the legs.
Walking safely on snow and ice
Walking on snow and ice puts workers at risk of slips and falls. Reduce the risk by:
- clearing walking surfaces of snow and ice and using salt or its equivalent;
- wearing proper footwear – insulated boots with good rubber treads are a must for walking during or after a winter storm;
- taking short steps and walking at a slow pace on an ice or snow-covered walkway so you can react quickly to a change in traction;
- walking against the traffic and as close to the curb as you can if the sidewalk is not cleared and you have to walk in the street;
- looking out for vehicles that may have lost traction and are slipping towards you; vehicles might have trouble stopping at crosswalks or traffic signals;
- wearing bright clothing or reflective gear at night – dark clothing will make it hard for drivers to see you; and
- wearing sunglasses during the day to help you see better and avoid hazards.
Snow on the roof
- Use standard protections when working at heights and look out for unexpected hazards due to the weather.
- Ensure the proper use of fall protection and ladders.
- Use caution around surfaces that have been weighed down by snow, as they may collapse.
- Evaluate the total weight of snow, workers and equipment used, compared to the load limit of the roof.
- Whenever possible, use methods to clear ice and snow without workers going on the roof. For example, use ladders to apply de-icing materials and use snow rakes or drag lines from the ground.
- Additional information with regard to removing snow on roofs can be found at the OSHA Web site.
Cold but no snow
Snow or no snow, working in the cold weather increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
- Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that causes freezing in the deep layers of skin and tissue. Frostbite can cause permanent damage. It is recognizable by a loss of feeling and a waxy-white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes.
- Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
- OSHA suggests that employers ensure that employees know the symptoms of cold stress. Helpful information in accomplishing this is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress/
- OSHA’s Cold Stress Guide available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/cold.html
General tips for employers whose employees work outdoors in the winter include:
- Attempt to schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
- Ensure that employees in cold conditions work in pairs or groups.
- Do not permit an employee to overwork him/herself or to work to exhaustion, because a person may expend all of the energy needed to keep his/her muscles warm.
- Ensure proper clothing for the conditions. Employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as fall protection gear when required by OSHA standards to protect worker safety, and health. And though there is no OSHA requirement for employers to provide workers with ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen (29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)), AIM urges companies to do so as a sound business practice.
- Train employees on the symptoms of cold stress (see above) and what to do/who to contact when there are concerns.
Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with injuries resulting from extreme cold-weather conditions. Putting a plan in place to address the concerns unique to your business is an essential strategy.
If employers have questions about this or other HR related matters please contact the AIM Hotline at 800-470-6277.