Winter is coming: How to protect your workers this season
The year has come full circle as we begin to enter winter months once again. Soon enough, businesses will reflect on the year’s accomplishments and potential areas for improvement. One area safety and operations leaders can master this season is workplace safety, as they find themselves shifting focus from summertime hazards to the risks brought on by harsh winter conditions.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Climate Prediction Center’s forecast, the United States should anticipate colder, wetter conditions in the north for the 2017-2018 winter season. With this in mind, managers need to equip workers to prevent slips from snow and ice, work vehicle accidents as well as illnesses and injuries caused by cold weather.
Winter safety cannot be overlooked as companies take on seasonal employees and temporary workers to meet holiday and year-end demands. Set your standards high with the following workplace safety tips to protect your employees.
Prevent slips, trips and falls
According to OSHA, 25 percent of workplace accidents and 15 percent of all workplace deaths are a result of slips, trips and falls, which is second only to motor vehicles fatalities. The following precautions can reduce these avoidable accidents:
- Rain and snow commonly cause falls, so keep walkways, entranceways and stairways clear. Minimize risks that are caused by water on floors or stairs and eliminate snow or ice on sidewalks.
- Identify areas that could jeopardize safety, and mark them immediately with signs, cones or barricades to notify on-site workers.
- Insist that all staff wear proper footwear, ideally shoes that have a no-slip grip. You may also be responsible for providing your workforce with appropriate footwear per OSHA requirements. Therefore, review your company's PPE policy to ensure you meet all OSHA standards.
Ensure company vehicles are well-kept
Winter conditions only add to the road hazards already faced by workers operating motor vehicles. During the frenzy of winter, workers still need to make their trips to get materials from suppliers, deliver products to customers or visit clients and prospects to provide services. In order to keep operations running smoothly and your employees safe in winter conditions, employers must regularly check the maintenance of their vehicles to ensure safety. They can:
- Check for tread on tires, and ensure you have seasonal, winter, or snow tires for good road traction in winter conditions.
- Monitor windshield wipers and replace them as needed, and frequently measure fluid levels to de-ice windshields during snow and ice storms.
- Tune-up vehicles in advance to ensure the vehicle's engine, transmission, brakes, steering components, and lights are in good working order.
Enforce warm and adequate attire
Don’t underestimate the effects of the cold. Cold stress can put workers at serious harm if they’re not dressed appropriately. Emphasize the importance of combatting the cold by:
- Requiring workers to dress in layers that trap body heat, including cold weather gloves and a knitted face mask.
- Implementing waterproof outerwear for damp settings.
Avoid cold weather illnesses
Be aware of the most common illnesses and symptoms that may occur during winter:
- Hypothermia - Hypothermia is a condition in which body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced, and the typical body temperature of 98.6⁰ F drops to less than 95⁰ F. Moderate to severe symptoms may include loss of coordination, confusion and disorientation, as well as dilated pupils, slowed breathing or loss of consciousness.
- Frostbite - Frostbite is an injury generally affecting extremities like hands and feet, which is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissue. Symptoms may include red-colored skin turning gray, numbness and potential blistering if the condition is serious.
- Trench Foot - Trench foot, also known as “immersion foot,” is caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold temperatures. This condition can occur at temperatures as high as 60⁰ F if feet are wet. According to OSHA, non-freezing injuries can occur because wet feet lose their heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Symptoms of trench foot are the same as frostbite: redness of skin, swelling, numbness and blisters.
Safeguard your brand, too
First and foremost, your goal is to keep your workforce safe. It should be an inherent trait to want the best work experience for your employees. It’s also important, however, to realize how critical a positive environment and working conditions are for your workers. If they’re constantly subjected to weather elements for long periods, asked to drive vehicles that are in poor condition or are discouraged from speaking up when they identify a potential hazard at the work site, it’s only a matter of time before they leave.
With lost productivity and high turnover costs on the line, the impact of safety on your organization’s reputation and bottom-line is indisputable. An environment focused on safety and wellness leaves a lasting impression among your workforce, which will translate to future prospects.
Today’s workers are quick to log on to online review sites like Kununu, where the entire world can read about their job experience. According to a survey by Software Advice, a third of job seekers reported a company needed at least a three-star rating in order for them to consider applying.
But it’s not all bad news. Your current and past employees and workers can also be your greatest advocates. The managers who create a reliable safety culture will be able to attract and retain the best talent over time. By committing to safety — not only at the most critical times, but every time — you will most certainly reap the benefits.