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Safety and Security Feb 05, 2021

5 Cold Weather Safety Tips for Every Business

Working in cold weather can be very dangerous, even if your employees are not exposed continually. Here are 5 safety tips for anyone working in cold weather.

Historians credit 19th century English art critic John Ruskin with saying, “there’s no such thing as bad weather. There are only different types of good weather.” Millions of people in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic that recently endured record snowfall resulting from Winter Storm Orlena may beg to differ.

When cold weather arrives, smart businesses pay close attention to facility safety issues, taking proactive measures such as making sure sidewalks and parking lots are clear of snow and ice. Depending on road conditions, a business may also enact a winter safety plan, reminding employees of winter driving safety policies or telling non-vital workers to stay home until it is safe to come to the office.

But for many employees—including many essential workers, field technicians, and millions working for logistics or transportation businesses—work must go on, despite severe winter weather. Often, this means clocking in and working a full day’s labor exposed to the elements. For these employees, in particular, winter hazards abound. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017—the latest year for which data is available—there were 20,460 workplace accidents from ice, sleet, or snow.

Of course, working “outside” can look very different depending on the employee’s job. For instance, outdoor workers include these various groups:

  • People that work outside all of the time, such as construction workers, lumber workers, farmers, and utility line technicians
  • Solo workers who may have to navigate through the elements such as postal workers, social workers, and those in the transportation industry
  • Service workers who may switch between working inside and outside during their shift, such as plumbers, cable service technicians, and electricians

Even in the most extreme cold weather conditions, many companies will have workers who have to deal with winter hazards of some sort. Preparation will be different for each business.

Companies with a majority of workers that work outside are probably well suited to dealing with cold weather. These businesses still must fight complacency among their staff and workers. Other companies with employees that have sporadic exposure to the elements will need to focus more on educating workers on the hazards they’ll face.

While there isn’t a specific standard that covers worker safety in cold weather environments, OSHA’s current guidelines state that an employers’ duty of care responsibilities include providing workers with a place of employment free from recognized hazards, including cold stress.

With that in mind, here are five safety tips for working in cold weather that should apply to all businesses.

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Cold Weather Safety Tip #1: Stay Ahead of Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a serious condition in which the human body uses up its stored energy and can no longer produce heat. The most common cause of hypothermia is prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most common signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech, or blue-tinted skin.

Across the U.S., deaths attributed to hypothermia or prolonged exposure to excessive cold have increased steadily in recent years. According to recent estimates, more than 1,000 people die of cold exposure in the U.S. every year. You might think of hypothermia as something that can only occur when the temperature drops into the negatives, but the reality is that it can be a threat much sooner. The National Weather Service reminds us that hypothermia can happen between temperatures of 30 and 50 degrees.

Most likely, your organization already has plans in place for workers who are exposed to the elements for part or all of their workday. If not, consult OSHA’s Cold Stress guidelines as you develop your workplace safety plan.

How to safeguard employees from hypothermia

Here are some hypothermia prevention tips for workers from the CDC:

  1. Wear appropriate clothing. Layering provides better insulation, so workers should wear several layers of loose clothing. They should protect their ears, face, hands, and feet by wearing a hat and waterproof gloves and boots. Advise workers to carry an extra change of clothes and a blanket in case they get wet or need additional protection from dropping temperatures or blustery winds.
  2. Try to limit time outside on extremely cold days. Employees should move into warm locations during work breaks and, if possible, reschedule outdoor tasks for a different day during better working conditions.
  3. Establish a buddy system. Workers should monitor their physical condition and the condition of their coworkers. Remind workers that very low body temperature affects the brain, making it difficult to think clearly or move well.
  4. Stay dry. Damp clothing drops body temperature quickly. Wear a moisture-wicking base layer to wick away sweat. Make sure employees’ outerwear gear is waterproof, too. It sounds obvious, but we’ll say it anyway: remove wet clothing as soon as possible.

Cold Weather Safety Tip #2: Preventing and Responding to Incidents

Winter weather can be very serious, so it’s important to have policies in place for employees to follow if a problem arises. Year after year, slips and falls are one of the most common causes of workplace accidents and remain the leading cause of death on construction sites, so it’s critical to take extra precautions—particularly during cold weather.

Preventing slips and falls due to cold weather:

  • Regularly inspect walking surfaces and replace or recoat any flooring that shows signs of wear and tear
  • Ensure employees have appropriate footwear with anti-slip properties
  • Keep work areas free of clutter and in good working condition
  • Provide adequate lighting to help employees better see potential hazards

Responding to workplace incidents for suspected hypothermia:

If an employee does begin exhibiting signs of hypothermia, the CDC recommends the following safety procedures.

  • Request immediate medical assistance
  • Move the employee into a warm room or vehicle if no buildings are nearby
  • Remove wet clothing
  • Give the employee warm beverages
  • Once the employee’s temperature has increased, keep them dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, making sure to include the head and neck.

Responding to workplace incidents for suspected frostbite

If one of your employees begins to exhibit signs or symptoms of frostbite, the CDC recommends taking the following steps:

  • Do – Move the worker into a warm room as quickly as you can
  • Do – Immerse the affected area in warm water, or warm the affected area using body heat
  • Do NOT – Allow the employee to walk on frostbitten feet or toes
  • Do NOT – Use a heating pad, radiator, or fireplace for warming
  • Do NOT – Massage the frostbitten area because this may cause more damage
What are the signs of frostbite?

According to the CDC, the most common sign of frostbite is redness or pain in any skin area.

Employees and supervisors should be particularly mindful of skin becoming white or grayish-yellow in tint or begin to experience numbness.

Employees should also immediately seek medical advice if skin begins to feel abnormal—either waxy or firmer.

Cold Weather Safety Tip #3: Reinforce the Importance of Self-Care

Basic self-care is important for workers exposed to wind, rain, snow, and sleet. Make sure your employees know to stay well-nourished with balanced meals and snacks. Eating a good mix of fats and carbohydrates will help the body use nutrients as energy to keep body temperatures up in cold weather.

Winter workers should also drink more water than they typically do because we dehydrate more quickly in cold weather. Also, dehydration causes headaches, fatigue, and dizziness—all situations that could endanger colleagues who need to stay alert.

Plan some time indoors throughout the day. Whether that’s inside a building, shelter, or vehicle, have employees build in time to take a break from the chill. If possible, have workers use the “buddy system,” with teams of two looking out for each other.

What are good foods to eat during cold weather?

For individuals that will be exposed to cold weather for extended periods of time, nutritionists recommend eating foods that take longer to digest, which can help raise your body temperature and feel warmer (a process called “thermogenesis”).

Foods and beverages that are known to provide benefits include bananas, ginger tea, oats, coffee, red meat, sweet potatoes, and squash.

Cold Weather Safety Tip #4: Plan Ahead With an Emergency Kit

Do your employees travel on wet or snowy roads? If so, reference these winter driving safety tips for employees to make sure everyone is ready when they get behind the wheel. In addition, each company vehicle should be outfitted with a cold-weather safety kit. An emergency foil blanket and chemical hand warmers are definite items to include.

For a more extensive list of emergency supplies for your kit, the Department of Homeland Security has created a checklist for various situations. Regardless of what you include in your emergency kit, build in semi-annual restocking tasks to keep the kit in tip-top shape.

Employees are your greatest asset, so prepare now to keep them safe in winter weather, especially if they work outside for part or all of their shift.

Cold Weather Safety Tip #5: Arm Your Workers With a Safety Alarm

No matter how much training or preparation you do, bad things will happen. Wrecks. Fires. Dehydration. Frostbite. What do your workers do in the worst-case scenario, when they may be lost and their freezing fingers barely work?

They need a lone worker safety app specifically build for life-threatening situations. AlertMedia’s employee safety monitoring solution utilizes a mobile app and a 24/7 monitoring center to keep workers safe—especially those regularly exposed to severe weather and dangerous working conditions.

Even if a worker can barely move, they can easily signal for help by simply allowing their timed session to expire. There’s no passcode to enter or buttons to fumble with in the event of a fall, emergency, or accident.

Our monitoring center is immediately notified that one of your workers is in danger once they press the panic button or allow the timed session to expire. The app provides their exact location to our team, who can have first responders to your worker within minutes. This is a great tool to maximize your lone worker safety.

Identify Threats Before They Impact Your People

The best way to safeguard your people from cold-weather threats is to be prepared. Whether keeping remote employees informed of severe winter weather threats or reminding field workers of safety policies at the worksite, it’s critical to have a two-way mass notification system and real-time threat intelligence solution designed to help you identify at-risk employees and communicate effectively—no matter the situation.

 

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