According to the CDC, one million injuries per year are caused by slips on snow and ice. Additionally, more than 116,800 people are injured in car crashes on snowy, icy, or slushy pavement each year. As you can see, winter weather is a safety threat, especially for those required to go outside and travel in harsh conditions.
This article will provide essential winter safety tips for employees, particularly those who work outdoors during the winter months.
Workplace Winter Safety
It’s essential for businesses to have winter safety guidelines and action plans in place and to inform employees about them. Here are some workplace winter safety tips for employees and companies.
Both employers and employees should monitor the weather and identify any potential threats. For example, check for approaching winter storms, possible blizzard conditions, icy roads, road closures, etc.
Know when it isn’t safe to commute to the office and have a plan (covered next) to accommodate work from home or alternative work options.
Develop an Emergency Response Plan for Extreme Weather
Every company should have an emergency response plan for extreme weather conditions. It should include information about actions to take when there’s inclement weather, approaching storms, and power outages. Some other relevant aspects the plan should cover include:
- Contact information for each employee
- Supplies and resources needed for stocking up
- An evacuation plan for leaving the building or area
- Communication paths for relaying the plan and notifying when safe
- Roles and responsibilities
Communicate Plans to All Employees
All employees should be aware of the emergency response plan’s existence and know what to do when it is enacted. Business owners and employers can host practice drills and regular check-ins to keep employees updated, and should be sure to answer relevant questions.
Maintain a Facility Safe from Winter Hazards
Business owners should have a plan to keep their facility safe and hazard-free to reduce workplace accidents. This step includes planning for shoveling snow, de-icing, salting sidewalks and parking lots, placing absorbent mats at the entrances, and more.
Maintaining a safe facility also involves the following:
- Performing regular maintenance and facility inspections (roof, plumbing, etc.)
- Marking walkways
- Installing outdoor lighting
Train Employees on Best Winter Weather Practices
Employers should train their employees on the best winter weather practices inside and outside of the workplace. The following section will outline some techniques that can help keep everyone safe.
Winter Safety Tips for Outdoor Workers
Outdoor workers are vulnerable to winter weather hazards and accidents. Proper education and training are vital in preventing weather-related injuries while on the job. This section will list cold weather safety tips and the best practices for outdoor workers.
Prevent Slips and Falls
Employees working outdoors during winter weather should wear waterproof footwear with good insulation and traction. It’s also helpful to take small steps and walk slowly.
Employers should get snow and ice cleared from parking lots, walkways, and stairs as soon as possible. They can also mark slippery or dangerous areas with cones, barricades, or caution signs.
Monitor Cold Stress Symptoms
Cold stress occurs when the body has difficulty maintaining its normal temperature. Employees working outside should monitor symptoms related to hypothermia, trench foot, and frostbite and call for immediate help if they experience any of the following symptoms.
- Hypothermia - occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees. Symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, fumbling hands, memory loss, confusion, slurred speech, and drowsiness.
- Trench foot - occurs when feet have been wet for long periods. Symptoms include redness, swelling, tingling, numbness, blotchy skin, and a heavy feeling in the foot.
- Frostbite - occurs in freezing temperatures and results in loss of feeling. Symptoms include pain, numbness, clumsiness due to joint/muscle stiffness, white, bluish-white, grayish-yellow skin, or firm or waxy skin.
Dress Properly for the Weather
Employees should have the proper uniform and clothing to do their job and be informed about how to dress appropriately in winter. Cold weather clothing typically involves three layers:
- A long-sleeve base layer of moisture-wicking fabric
- A middle insulating layer of wool or fleece, or synthetic material
- An outer layer that protects from wind and rain
You’ll want to wear warm socks, long underwear, waterproof pants, gloves or mittens, a hat, face covering, and a scarf.
Use Sun Protection
Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, even when it’s cloudy. The sun’s UV rays reflect off of snow and can result in sunburn. Opt for a sunscreen that moisturizes to prevent skin from getting too dry in freezing temperatures.
Provide Warm Shelter and Heat Sources
Employers should supply a warm, indoor area where employees can take breaks and warm up. In addition, employees can drink hot beverages like coffee, tea, and hot chocolate to help them stay warm.
Promote Safe Driving
Workplaces should educate and promote safe driving practices. Here you can find advice on driving in snowy and icy conditions.
Know When it’s Too Cold
When it’s below freezing, and there’s a wind chill, employees should take frequent warm-up breaks to prevent cold-related illnesses and injuries (10-minute break every 40 minutes). Employees should also try to schedule their outdoor jobs during the warmest parts of the day.