December & January Safety Topics to Elevate Workplace Safety
With hazards getting more slippery and employees’ attention more scattered, you must review winter safety tips with your teams on a regular basis.
As one year ends and another begins, businesses are pushing to finish various initiatives and laying the groundwork for new ones. Salespeople are chasing last-minute deals, developers are sprinting to patch bugs and document their work, and finance is digesting the last year’s data into reports.
With the change-of-year momentum, safety and security priorities might take a back seat. But now is the time to establish safety goals and procedures for the next year, set employees up with good year-round safe habits, and avert seasonal risks that don’t take breaks. Not only cold weather threats, but now is also the time to double down on fire prevention, cybersecurity, mental health, and remote work health and safety. Here are some December and January safety topics to address with leaders and employees—to ensure you don’t leave your safety training out in the cold.
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December Safety Topics
No matter what industry you’re in, there are some things every business needs to consider if they’re facing winter weather. Think about how you might apply these December safety topics to engage your teams in mitigating risks they’re likely to face.
Your business can’t control the weather or even the wintertime hazards you may encounter. But you can develop and implement a winter weather communications plan to ensure safety leaders and employees know what to do when bad weather hits.
- Where do you store employee contact information?
- What kind of extreme weather would you need to communicate about?
- Which employees would be affected by which weather event?
- Which communication channels will be most effective during inclement weather?
Extreme weather communication tips
- Use an emergency mass notification system to send your messages and track receipts and responses.
- Draft winter communication templates for expected weather-related situations, such as office closures or winter storm warnings.
Snow is responsible for immense structural damage every year. As it accumulates, the snow weight can damage structures such as wood and metal roofs. Fortunately, you can minimize this risk.
- What is the shape of your structure’s roof? Is it highly angled to allow snow to slide off easily, or is it flatter?
- How much snow accumulated in your area last year? On the roof?
- What material is the roof made of?
- How old is the roof? When was the last time it was inspected by a professional?
Tips to protect your structure from snow weight
- Keep gutters and water drainage systems clear. When the snow melts or you get rain on top of snow, a poorly drained roof will retain that water—which can then re-freeze into ice, trapping even more moisture in the future.
- Hire a certified inspector to identify signs of roof damage. Usually, roofs will not catastrophically fail due to weight load without previous signs of damage.
Perhaps the most obvious danger during cold months, slips, trips, and falls are a personal injury lawyer’s bread and butter. You could be held liable if you don’t take reasonable action to prevent employees and visitors from injuring themselves on icy walkways or slippery stairs. Luckily, this is often an easy problem to solve for.
- What parts of your space are exposed to the elements?
- How do people get to your workplace? (Via car, bike, public transportation, etc.)
- What material is used for your interior and exterior walkways?
- What slips, trips, or falls have occurred in the workplace over the past year if any?
Tips to keep everyone standing in slippery conditions
- Use proactive snow removal (whether with a snow blower or snow shoveling), deicing salt, handrails, grip tape, drying floor mats, and other tools to decrease the prevalence of ice and water and provide additional support methods to walkers.
- Deploy targeted “slippery when wet” signage to encourage careful walking in slippery areas.
October might be Cybersecurity Awareness Month, but safe password maintenance is a year-round topic that should receive regular attention. It’s especially crucial in December because cyberattacks are known to surge during the holiday season, and easy-to-guess or reused passwords are one of the easiest ways for criminals to access your systems.
- What are your current employee password policies and best practices?
- When was the last time you required employees to update their passwords for a particular system?
- How will you communicate with everyone if a cyberattack takes out one or more of your systems?
- What data is at risk of cyberattack?
Tips to support cyber safety
- Use a single sign-on system to help your employees keep track of their various passwords and remind them when it’s time to update them. Two-factor authentication will further strengthen the security of their accounts.
- Perform regular backups of crucial data so a successful cyberattack against your business would have a limited impact on continued operations.
Perhaps counterintuitively, most accidental fires occur in winter due to heating and electrical safety issues. Contributing factors include an increase in heating devices, such as personal space heaters and electric blankets; lights, holiday lights, and candles for festivities; and even the good ol’ fireplace. Take time this December to prevent such a disaster from occurring at your workplace.
- Is holiday decorating allowed at your workplace?
- Do employees plug in personal space heaters and electric blankets?
- If your workspace includes a place to burn fires safely, how are the ashes disposed of?
- Do you have sufficient fire extinguishers, emergency fire exits, a fire alarm system, and carbon monoxide detectors?
Tips to support fire prevention
- Limit space heaters to one per electrical outlet, and use heaters that automatically shut off if tipped over. Keep at least three feet of space between a heat source and any flammable materials.
- Run regular fire drills so everyone knows how to increase their chances of safety if a fire does break out.
Your people may encounter winter driving dangers on a daily basis on their commute or if offsite travel is a part of their responsibilities. Others may face the occasional business trip with car travel involved on unfamiliar roads and in unfamiliar conditions. Think of not just snow but also high winds, sleet, slush, and ice. The risks are real, and so are the opportunities to prepare your team.
- How many of your employees drive to work?
- Does your city/town plow the roads and lay down salt?
- Are there any alternative methods of transportation other than personal motor vehicles?
- Does your organization support remote work for some or all employees?
Tips to keep winter driving safe
- Prepare for and allow remote work days for employees who cannot come to work without driving on unsafe roadways.
- Proactively communicate with your employees on weather conditions and let them know early in the morning (before anyone leaves for work) whether or not the office will be closed that day.
January Safety Topics
In January, many employees find themselves refreshed from a relaxing vacation and rearing to get the new year started. Channel some of that energy into your safety efforts. The following topics can help guide your priorities.
Many find the winter months and the associated ambiance comforting. Unfortunately, some people experience an intensification of specific mental health issues during the winter, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Make sure to be there for your employees who might be experiencing these effects.
- What mental health benefits do your employees have, if any?
- How do you identify which employees might be struggling with their mental health?
- Do you think your employees have a good work-life balance? What do they think?
- Does your organization’s safety culture include mental health awareness?
Tips to support employee mental health
- Require and allow all employees to take regular days off to focus on their mental health without fear of repercussions.
- Cover mental health care, including telehealth appointments, in your employee benefits package.
Many accidents at work—such as bruises and cuts sustained from tripping or burns given by heating equipment—can be helped by a bystander with the proper resources and training in workplace first aid. Here are some tips to help make sure your people can perform first aid duties at a moment’s notice.
- What first aid equipment do you have available?
- Where are first aid kits located? What about defibrillators (AEDs)?
- Are your employees certified in CPR?
- What injuries require hospital care, and which can be treated by first aid? Which might require both?
Tips to empower employees to perform first aid
- Partner with an expert, such as someone from your local fire department, who can help train your people in proper first aid treatment.
- Place clearly labeled and easily accessible first aid kits around the workplace.
According to our 2022 State of Employee Safety Report, 82% of employees believe that employers are responsible for the safety of their remote workers as well as those working onsite. While most organizations have established their working model, it’s clear that remote working is here to stay in one way or another, and those offsite workers are under your duty of care too.
- How do you keep in touch with your remote workers?
- How often do your employees work remotely?
- Where are your employees’ remote working locations?
- What threats do your remote workers face?
Tips to enhance your remote workers’ safety
- Use technology, such as a threat intelligence system, to identify what might be affecting your remote workers at any time, anywhere. Using location data can further enhance this tactic.
- Encourage casual social interaction among remote employees to maintain morale and camaraderie, two factors that ward off mental illness, isolation, and burnout.
Contrary to what we see in Hollywood movies, “hacking” doesn’t usually rely on techno-wizardry to break through firewalls and gain access to a system. Instead, it usually involves simple social engineering tricks to get people to give up their passwords unwittingly. It’s a widespread scam that businesses need to look out for throughout the year.
- What “red flags” can help identify a phishing message?
- What methods are available to employees to report a phishing attempt?
- What accounts/passwords are most attractive as phishing targets?
- When was the last time someone at your company fell victim to a phisher?
Tips to avoid the phish from catching you
- Use two-factor authentication on employee accounts as an extra layer of security.
- Set up organization-wide email filters that block suspicious emails from reaching your people.
While some jobs function behind a desk in a temperature-controlled room during winter, other occupations require workers to venture outside, such as construction workers, utility maintenance people, and some facility managers. In these cases, safety topics often take the form of toolbox talks. Here’s how you can ensure those who work outside stay safe in January and other cold months.
- Where do your outdoor workers perform their duties?
- What cold temperature gear are they equipped with?
- Do they work alone or in groups?
- How do they keep in touch with HQ?
Tips to keep workers safe from cold-weather exposure
- Train your outdoor workers on the signs of cold stress (identified by OSHA) and frostbite, such as red skin, numbness, and swelling. Deploy workers according to a “buddy system,” so there is a greater chance someone notices the signs of cold stress—and there’s someone to provide aid if needed.
- Provide adequate cold-weather clothing that keeps workers both warm and dry, as well as a set of spare warm clothing in case the primary set becomes wet.
As anyone who frequents this blog knows, the threats we face at work can come from surprising places. For example, even your desk and chair could be harming you and your employees right now! That is, if they’re not set up correctly.
Ergonomic problems can lead to muscle strain, fatigue, carpal tunnel syndrome, and more. Here’s how to avoid that.
- What chairs and desks do your office workers use? Are they all the same, or is it a mix?
- Are your people aware of the potential risks of poor ergonomics?
- What options would a worker have if they wanted to change their desk setup?
- What are the signs of bad ergonomics?
Tips to ensure ergonomic safety
- Provide adjustable work chairs and footrests for each employee to maintain proper posture (don’t forget remote workers).
- Lead daily stretching exercises so employees can release tension from typing. During these exercises, consider alleviating eye strain by instructing employees to look at a far wall for the duration.
Safety Never Sleeps
Whether your December and January safety topics cover winter-exclusive or broader issues, you must constantly reevaluate the threat landscape by performing regular threat assessments. Your business could be concentrated in one office in New York City or scattered among hundreds of locations throughout the country. In any case, continue the momentum from these winter safety talks, so you’re ready for every month of the year.