As a massive front of winter weather moves its way across the Eastern United States, federal and state OS&H agencies, as well as safety associations, are urging enterprises not closed for Martin Luther King Day to take especial caution for the safety of their workers today.
Over the weekend, the front dropped sleet, ice and freezing rain from Texas to Michigan, and was moving from Arkansas through Ohio and New York this morning. Thousands of power lines were damaged and as of 5 a.m., the storm had already caused 20 deaths. According to Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt, 300,000 homes in his state are without power. An additional 150,000 lost service in Oklahoma.
The greatest danger to workers during such an ice storm, according to OSHA, is the drive to work. According to National Weather Service about 70 percent of injuries during winter storms result from vehicle accidents, and about 25 percent of injuries result from being caught out in the storm.
NWS also warned of the electrical dangers, a fear confirmed this weekend by downed power lines across the Midwest. “Have checks made of electrical systems, computer cables and telecommunications' equipment to ensure that they are still safe and there is no danger of exposure to electricity,” advised Don Jones of the American Society of Safety Engineers.
Working outdoors after an ice storm brings a number of potential safety hazards. OSHA recommends worker areas should be inspected for potential falling ice, and surfaces de-iced. The agency also recommends the use of insulated boots with good tread, and instructing workers to take short steps and walk at a slower pace.