6 Essential Winter Safety Tips for Employees
It’s that time of year again. The days are shortening, temperatures are dropping, and snow is knocking at the door in many parts of the country. But this winter season will be unlike any we’ve seen before. With the COVID-19 pandemic altering how we work, convene, and communicate, it will be more important than ever to ensure your workplace is prepared for the cold months ahead.
This winter season will bring new challenges for which businesses everywhere must be ready. Over the last several months, we have seen a massive shift toward remote work. Under stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, teleworking has become the new norm. Many schools are operating under hybrid or remote learning models, leaving working parents to navigate completely new territory. On top of all this, the potential for another surge of COVID-19 cases poses a significant and growing public health threat.
And while many employees are now working from home—which creates a new set of winter safety hazards—others must still find their way into the workplace. What they don’t want to encounter on their way are unsafe driving conditions, slick sidewalks, or worse yet—inching their way through icy gridlock only to learn after they’ve battled the weather that the office is closed.
In this blog post, we’ll share steps you can take to ensure your workplace is safe from the hazards of winter weather. Whether your employees are working from home, in the office, or on the road, these winter safety tips for employees will prevent cold-weather hazards from catching you off-guard.
Winter Threats to Employee Safety
When snow and ice strike, driving conditions can quickly deteriorate. According to the Federal Highway Administration, over 1,300 people are killed and more than 116,800 are injured in vehicle crashes due to winter weather conditions each year. And it’s not just icy roads and snow accumulation that businesses need to worry about.
Many winter hazards affect businesses even in areas that don’t experience snow. An increased likelihood of dangerous fire activity, slip and fall injuries, and the flu and other seasonal illnesses are just a few of the risks that most businesses, regardless of location, face when winter arrives. Even before the pandemic hit, workplace-related illnesses like the flu cost employers billions annually in lost productivity.
Most common cold-weather hazards
According to OSHA’s winter safety precautions, there are a variety of weather-related hazards that employees may be exposed to during winter, from dangerous driving conditions to the risks that come with shoveling snow and working outdoors in the elements.
While the specific hazards vary by location, industry, and the nature of your business activities, threats your people may face this winter include:
- Unsafe driving conditions
- Road closures
- Slip and fall injuries
- Snow shoveling health risks
- Hypothermia and frostbite
- Flu and other seasonal illnesses
- Flight delays and cancellations
- Local school delays and closures
- Structural stress and damage
- Fire activity
- Power outages
6 Winter Safety Tips to Keep Employees Out of Harm’s Way
Fortunately, it’s not all gloom and doom once the snow and ice arrive. Since the risks associated with winter weather can typically be foreseen, there are steps you can take now to mitigate or even eliminate the impact of these risks on your employees and your business.
Here are six ways you can prevent cold-weather hazards from endangering employee safety and wreaking havoc on your business:
1. Monitor emerging threats
From storm-related outages to local COVID-19 outbreaks, it’s vital to keep a pulse on all potential threats that could impact your people or locations. But trying to monitor road closures, fires, icy conditions, temperatures, and weather forecasts all at once is more than a full-time job. It only gets more difficult once you have multiple office locations you have to account for, traveling employees, or a large remote workforce. It’s simply not feasible to try to manually track all of the threats that winter weather brings.
To address this problem, companies are turning to specialized threat monitoring solutions, like AlertMedia’s. The system pulls threat data from hundreds of sources around the world, cross-referencing a constantly updating global database of threats against your employees’ real-time locations. If a threat emerges that could impact one of your offices or employees, the system will automatically notify you, so that you can get the word out immediately.
2. Safeguard mobile and outdoor employees
Employees who must travel or work outdoors are particularly vulnerable to weather conditions. You have a duty of care to properly train them on winter work safety precautions and provide them with appropriate equipment and tools. If you have personnel who must drive for their job, ensure they have proper tires and an emergency supply kit in their vehicles. Many times, outdoor workers will need to halt their duties until the weather clears. On the other hand, some (like electrical repair crews) are even busier during bad weather. When these workers are in the elements, they can have a heightened danger of injuries and accidents.
Give them a way to call for immediate help. AlertMedia’s lone worker safety solution is an easy-to-use mobile app and monitoring system designed specifically for these situations. The employee can quickly signal for help from a locked phone, without even pressing a button. AlertMedia’s 24/7 monitoring team dispatches first responders to the user’s exact location and ensures they arrive with all the critical details they need, saving valuable time during emergencies.
Emergency communication software that supports location-based alerts is also a must-have for companies with remote workers. With real-time location tracking and geofencing capabilities you can instantly send notifications to all employees currently located within a specific geographical area. This ensures you send only relevant, targeted notifications and that your message gets to all the people who need to receive it.
3. Fortify the office and worksites
Did you know that falls involving ice, sleet, or snow are one of the biggest risks people face during the winter months? In fact, in 2017 alone there were more than 20,000 occupational injuries related to ice, sleet, and snow. And those are just the falls that people reported!
Winter preparedness is essential to protecting your people and business, and steps must be taken to prepare your facilities. You can’t prevent all falls, but you can salt the parking lot, sidewalks, and steps ahead of time. You can also place large, absorbent mats at every entrance to prevent slips once employees are inside the building.
Specific steps you can take to improve winter work safety include:
- Inspecting your facilities (roof, plumbing, etc.)
- Performing all required preventative maintenance and repairs
- Keeping walkways well-lit and clearly marked
- Ensuring you have a reliable contractor for snow removal
- Maintaining an adequate supply of de-icing products
- Encouraging employees to wear slip-resistant footwear
- Familiarizing yourself with OSHA winter safety tips and resources
4. Overcommunicate plans to employees
During severe winter storms, utility outages that knock out heat, power, and communication services can last for hours and sometimes even days. Have a plan for how employees are expected to continue to work in the event of an outage, as well as how you will stay in touch with employees—and be sure everybody is clear on those plans ahead of time. Your employees are going to expect communication before, during, and after any big storm. Don’t leave them hanging!
With a multi-channel emergency communication system such as AlertMedia, you can instantly send and receive messages across multiple channels simultaneously, including text message, email, phone call, mobile app, and desktop takeover. No matter where your employees are or what device they are using, they will receive the information they need. Even if one channel is down or inaccessible because of an outage, nobody will be left in the dark. A system with two-way messaging capabilities also enables employees to share helpful on-the-ground information about an event as it’s taking place and request help if needed.
5. Encourage remote worker safety
With many employees now working remotely due to COVID-19, it’s important to consider the heightened risks employees may face in and around their homes when winter weather arrives. Shoveling snow, for instance, sends over 11,000 people in the U.S. to the emergency room every year due to injuries and cardiac emergencies.
And winter doesn’t just take a toll on employees’ physical health, but on their mental health as well. We’re more sedentary than we were before the pandemic, which has a direct impact on physical and mental well-being. Amid the ongoing pandemic, many employees—particularly remote workers—are also feeling the effects of isolation in the form of stress, anxiety, and depression. According to a recent CDC survey, at least 40 percent of Americans report struggling with mental health. Many people already experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) this time of year, and mental health experts warn the pandemic could amplify the symptoms of seasonal depression.
Conducting regular employee wellness checks is critical to ensuring the physical safety and mental well-being of your workers. Using the survey functionality of an emergency notification solution, organizations can easily, proactively, and confidentially conduct employee wellness checks to determine which employees need additional support. And if an employee doesn’t respond, a solution like AlertMedia will even automatically resend the survey notification until receipt is acknowledged.
6. Consider other winter threats
Bad winter weather isn’t the only thing companies and employees must grapple with during the winter months. Consider what happens to your business when local schools are closed, an outbreak of COVID-19 affects employees and their families, or traveling employees are stranded in airports due to flight delays and cancellations. Meetings are postponed, emails are delayed, and normal business operations are disrupted. As employees’ attention is directed away from the organization and onto the pressing needs of the day, employee productivity is bound to take a hit.
A mass notification system with event page functionality allows your organization to consolidate all event-specific messages, Q&As, and helpful resources on one page that employees can use to check for updates. Instead of having to send a new notification with every update on a developing event—such as an approaching storm or local COVID-19 outbreak—you can send out a single link to a webpage that has all the latest updates. This keeps employees informed and operations running smoothly, saving time and eliminating confusion.
Employee Concerns About Winter Safety at Work
Just as important as physically preparing for cold weather hazards is having a plan for how you will communicate with employees when winter weather hits. Companies can’t control the weather or even the winter hazards they may encounter, but they can develop and implement a winter weather communication strategy that helps keep employees safe, informed, and connected when bad weather hits.
What do employees want to know about winter safety?
It’s easy to assume employees will be watching the news and weather reports, but many won’t. Be sure you have a way to communicate with all of your employees about the weather and its disruptions.
Using an emergency communication system is invaluable in sharing the pertinent, time-sensitive information employees need to know during a winter storm, such as:
- Whether commutes have become impossible
- Whether power outages or surges will impact their work
- Emergency contact information
- Status of any delivery delays
- Any modifications to work hours and/or shifts
- Where they can find updates
- Whether they can work from home
The most important thing you can do is let your employees know you have their best interests at heart. This means keeping them informed before, during, and after the weather event. The fortunate part about most winter weather storms is that they are predictable, and therefore plannable. Do what you can now to prepare and be sure you have a communication system that will help you get the word out fast.
Every business faces changing risks as winter approaches—whether winter brings snow, rain, or plummeting temperatures. But being prepared for the many hazards of winter weather can help you better manage the impact of such incidents on your employees, your customers, and your bottom line. With proper preparation and effective communication, you can make these cold winter months more tolerable for you and your employees.