For some companies the winter months bring new safety concerns. Colder temperatures subject employees to new hazards that can lead to serious injuries. Here are some common winter job site injuries and how you can prepare your employees in an effort to prevent those risks.
Common Winter Injuries
Slips, trips, and falls are a very common causes of workplace injuries. During the winter months, these injuries can occur more frequently. Any precipitation can lead to an icy surface, which can lead to slips and falls, causing serious injuries like broken bones, fractures, and even fatalities.
When exposed to colder temperatures, the body tends to take longer to adjust than when exposed to heat. If employees are working outside in these temperatures, cold stress can occur. Cold stress occurs when the skin’s temperature is dramatically lowered and then followed by a decrease in the body’s internal temperature where the body is unable to warm itself. Wind chill, precipitation, and even body sweat can all attribute to the onset of cold stress. Cold stress can take form as immersion, frostbite, and even hypothermia. Workers run the risk of less serious, but potentially dangerous, hazards due to decreased dexterity, snow/ice glare, and lack of mobility from additional protective layers around the body.
Preventing Common Winter Injuries
To reduce the risk of these common winter injuries, be sure to do a thorough inspection of the job site, including any machinery. Ensure any fluid used in machinery can withstand the colder temperatures to avoid freezing and replace if needed. If using compressor tanks, these should be drained after each use to avoid moisture accumulating and freezing. Certain tools, such as nail guns, can work less effectively in colder weather, so ensure these tools are warmed up prior to use. Added moisture and precipitation can lead to slippery surfaces. Ensure that all handrails and walkways are clear of any hazards—or are sectioned off if the hazard cannot be addressed.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), employers should train all supervisors and employees on winter safety. Learning to recognize signs of cold stress, recognizing physical hazards on the job site—such as icy surfaces—and what to do when encountering these hazards are a few of the trainings employees should receive.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Encouraging employees to dress appropriately for the colder temperatures will also help reduce injuries. OSHA recommends employees dress in at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing to create better insulation, knit mask to cover face and mouth against the wind if needed, hats, and insulated, waterproof gloves and boots. Employees should also keep extra warm clothing on hand in the event they need to change out of wet clothing. Staying dry is key to maintaining body heat.
It is even more important to use fall protection in the colder weather since surfaces can become wet and frozen, leaving room for slips and falls. Employers are required to provide fall protection PPE to employees, but are not necessarily required to provide winter-specific PPE, such as gloves and boots.2 As the employer, you can choose to provide some winter-specific PPE to your employees and include best practices for handling PPE in your company’s safety manual or employee handbook.
If the winter months pose a threat to the safety and well-being of your employees, Harbor America is here to help. Our team of seasoned safety and risk management representatives will provide guidance on how to inspect your job site for hazards, train employees on these hazards (including prevention tips), and work with you if you need to implement a PPE policy. Harbor America will assist you in making sure the colder temperatures don’t slow operations while keeping your employees safe from the added hazards winter weather brings.