Winter Weather Working Conditions
Slips, trips and falls are a leading cause of death in the United States, ranking second only to automobile–related accidents. Several factors lead to falls, such as: wet indoor surfaces from inclement weather and ice or snow covered outdoor surfaces. The good news is that these slip, trip and fall hazards can be reduced or eliminated through safe work practices.
Think about it… walking is second nature to all of us. Not paying attention to where we are walking or what we are walking on can lead to injury, especially during inclement weather. There are four points to consider for prevention to occur.
1. Spotting Hazards. Housekeeping plays a big part in the workplace, especially during the winter weather months. You have noticed someone coming inside from wet weather. What is the first thing you see? They bring in mud or water from that outside on their shoes and clothes and they shake their umbrella furiously to remove the excess water. Where does it all go? On the floor, of course, where someone is likely to slip and fall. So, you may ask yourself, what can I do? You can begin by coordinating excess water clean-up with housekeeping or maintenance. You can also place mats in front of entrances to absorb some of the water that is tracked in. Finally, instruct employees to shake the excess water from their umbrella before they enter. Umbrella bags may be used to store wet umbrellas during the work day.
2. Maneuvering Around Wet or Slippery Hazards. Upon spotting a hazard or slippery spot, slow down, keep a steady footing and look carefully where you place your feet. Shorten your stride to keep your center of balance under you, walk with your feet pointed slightly outward, creating a stable base and make wide corners.
3. Alerting others of the hazard. Report wet or slippery floor conditions immediately and use signs to warn others of the hazard. For example, “Caution: Wet Floor” signs are a very effective communication device.
4. Choosing the Appropriate Footwear. Choose the appropriate footwear for the environment, select shoes that provide support plus slip resistant soles. Special sole patterns are specifically engineered for slippery areas. Apply abrasive strips to increase traction in areas that stay wet or slippery. Pay special attention to wet shoes on a dry floor, they are equally as dangerous as dry shoes on a wet floor. Finally, if you must wear dress shoes at the office, carry them in and wear an outdoor shoe to work in bad weather.
Now that we have addressed the effects of winter weather on indoor surfaces, what about outdoor work and exposure to the cold?. Keep in mind that prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can result in health problems as serious as frostbite and hypothermia. Your staff needs to be especially mindful of the weather, its effects on their body, proper prevention and treatment of cold related disorders. Below are some proactive tips for protecting employees from the harsh winter weather.
Personal Protective Clothing is the most important step in fighting the elements. It’s important for your employee’s to wear at least three layers of clothing:
- An outer layer to break the wind and allow some ventilation (like Gortex® or nylon).
- A middle layer of down or wool to absorb sweat and retain insulation when wet.
- An inner layer of cotton or synthetic weave to allow ventilation.
A good example of layering would be a cotton turtle neck under a sweater, followed by a nylon (waterproof) jacket.
Employees should pay special attention to protecting their feet, hands, face and head. To protect their feet, employees should wear waterproof boots with two pairs of socks – cotton for the inner pair and wool to go over top. Gloves should be worn when the air temperature falls below 40°F to prevent cold stress to the hands. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed; therefore hats should be worn. In addition to wearing these garments, it is equally important to keep a change of clothing available in case work clothes become wet.
Additional safe work practices such as changes in work schedules are necessary as well to combat the effects of exceedingly cold weather.
- Allow a period of adjustment to the cold before embarking on a full work schedule, if possible. It takes approximately 5-7 work-days to become used to working in the cold.
- Employees may need extra work breaks in cold weather.
- Reduce, as much as possible, the number of activities performed outdoors. When your employees must brave the cold, select the warmest hours of the day and minimize activities that reduce circulation, such as sitting still or standing in one place for long periods of time.
- Ensure that your employees remain hydrated. They should be drinking plenty of warm, caffeine-free drinks or soup.
- Establish a buddy system for working outdoors.
- Educate your employees to the symptoms of cold-related stresses — heavy shivering, uncomfortable coldness, severe fatigue, drowsiness, slurred speech, memory lapses, fumbling hands or frequent stumbling.
Taking the necessary precautions indoors and out will lead your agency down the smooth path of injury prevention!
North Carolina Safety Zone Talks. “Cold Weather Safety.” http://www.doh.dot.state.nc.us/safety/safezone/arch27.htm
Santel Internet – Winter Weather Awareness. “Signs of Cold Weather Exposure.” http://www.santel.net
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