While accidents can happen anytime of the year, winter ice and snow create hazards that increase the likelihood of injuries in the workplace. With a safety mindset and a realization that safety is the responsibility of everyone, employers and employees can remain injury free even during the winter season.
It takes extra effort in the winter to keep walkways clear, but employers should take preventive measures to ensure these paths stay free of ice buildup. De-icing or shoveling snow periodically can help keep the walkways safe. Parking lots and outdoor areas where breaks are taken should be given special attention, as well. Don’t count on snow removal companies to keep pathways clear, as they are notorious for piling snow in walkways that often obstruct a safe walkway.
When walking, it is important to pay special attention to areas that may have ice on them and to take short steps. If possible, use grassy areas if walkways are covered in ice. You should always keep your hands out of your pockets, in case you need them to steady yourself in the event of a slip. Avoid carrying items that are heavy and may throw you off balance when walking in wintry conditions. If there are areas where water tends to stand and freeze, the area should be marked as hazardous with barricades, signs, or cones.
Shoveling snow in the cold weather can be quite tasking on the body. You should warm up before beginning and then take frequent breaks to warm up during the activity. It is better to push the snow if possible, instead of lifting it. To avoid back injuries when shoveling snow, lift with your legs while keeping your back straight and avoid twisting or turning your body.
It is important to wear the proper clothing when dealing with wintry weather conditions. Wearing footwear with heavy treads can increase traction and always wear brightly colored clothing when walking outdoors where there is traffic, to ensure you are visible to drivers. Keep extra gloves, hats and blankets in your vehicle in case you have vehicle trouble or are delayed in traffic for an extended period.
Prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures can result in hypothermia and frostbite and have long lasting effects. It is important to know the signs and actions to take if you suspect you or another person is experiencing frostbite or hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia often include a lack of coordination, shaking and shivering, confusion or drowsiness and slurred speech. Skin that is hard, pale or numb can be signs of frostbite. Blisters or swelling and joint or muscle stiffness can also be an indication of frostbite. It is important to seek medical attention as quickly as possible after moving yourself or someone else to a warm area to prevent further heat loss. You should remove any wet clothing and remain dry if possible.
A safety plan should include everyone within the organization. Post holidays are a good time to reinforce safety protocols and review your organization’s expectations. Encourage open dialogue so areas of concern can be discussed and addressed. This helps support a strong safety culture and allows for continuous improvement. When possible, allowing employees to leave before it gets dark can increase company morale and shows employees their safety is important. Companies that create a lenient inclement weather policy tend to keep their employees happier and longer.