When winter weather storms begin, many smart businesses pay attention to facility safety issues such as making sure sidewalks and parking lots are clear of snow and ice. A business may also enact a safety plan, telling non-vital workers to stay home until it is safe to come to the office. There are many different types of winter hazards businesses must prepare for.
But for many employees, winter weather means clocking in and working a full day’s labor–sometimes even out in the elements. For these colleagues, winter danger abounds. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were 42,480 workplace injuries from ice, sleet, or snow.
Of course, working “outside” looks different for different people depending on their job. For instance, outdoor workers include these various groups:
● People that work outside all of the time such as construction workers, lumberjacks, farmers, and utility line workers
● Solo workers who may have to navigate through the elements such as mail workers, social workers, and salespeople
● Service workers who may switch between working inside and outside during their shift such as plumbers, cable service technicians, and electricians
This means a great variety of companies will have workers that have to deal with winter weather 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 are the types of businesses that must fight complacency among their staff and workers. Other businesses that have workers with sporadic exposure to the elements will need to focus more on educating workers on the hazards they’ll face.
With that in mind, here are five safety tips for working in cold weather that should apply to all businesses.
Working in 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. A victim of hypothermia may shiver, be confused, and have blue-tinted skin.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that more than 800 people in the U.S. died from hypothermia in 2015. 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 labor in the elements for part or all of their workday. In addition to hypothermia, the CDC advises that cold weather workers are at risk of frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains.
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 to a warmer time or a different day.
3. Workers should monitor their physical condition and that of their coworkers. Remind workers that very low body temperature affects the brain, making it difficult to think clearly or move well.
The biggest hypothermia tip: 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.
Working in Cold Weather Safety Tip #2: Respond Quickly to Problems
Winter weather can be very serious, so it’s important to have policies in place for employees to follow if a problem arises.
For suspected hypothermia:
● 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.
For suspected frostbite:
If the employee has tingling and stinging hands; numbness; or blue, pale, or waxy skin:
● Move the worker into a warm room as quickly as you can
● Do not allow the employee to walk on frostbitten feet or toes
● Immerse the affected area in warm water, or warm the affected area using body heat
● Do not use a heating pad, radiator, or fireplace for warming
● Do not massage the frostbitten area because this may cause more damage
Working in Cold Weather Safety Tip #3: Pay Attention to 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.
Working in Cold Weather Safety Tip #4: Plan Ahead with an Emergency Kit
Do your employees travel on wet or snowy roads? If so, reference these 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 kits 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.
Working in 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 such as SafeSignal that was specifically built for life-threatening situations. SafeSignal is AlertMedia’s mobile app and monitoring system designed to keep workers safe in life-threatening or dangerous situations.
Even if a worker can barely move, they can easily signal for help with SafeSignal by simply pulling a tether that plugs into their smartphone or 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. 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.