Top 3 winter hazards: how to keep employees safe
Winter officially begins December 21, but we're already seeing the plunging temperatures, snow, ice, and frosty winds that produce increased risks for workers.
Outside workers are susceptible to cold stress, hypothermia and frostbite. Slips, trips and falls at work are more common due to wet, slippery conditions at work, inside and out. And there is an increased risk of vehicle collisions for drivers due to slippery surfaces, snowstorms and reduced visibility.
It's time to put your workplace's Winter Safety Plan into action or develop one if you haven't yet. Your plan should outline what the risks are, who’s at risk, and the safe work practices and other control strategies you will use to keep workers safe. Communicate your plan to everyone in the workplace.
Use the ideas below to flesh out your plan (or start building one) for controlling these top 3 winter hazards.
1. Slips, trips and falls
Employees who fall on slippery walking surfaces can experience a range of injuries, from sore muscles and bruises to fractures and serious head injuries.
- Ensure everyone understands their responsibilities. Staff usually keep stairs, floors and entranceways clear of ice and snow while contractors take care of outside walkways and parking lots. But in sudden, heavy weather your staff may need to step in and help if the contractor is delayed. Provide them with training, tools, and equipment.
- Raise awareness of slips, trips and falls hazards through safety talks and other forms of communication. Provide prevention tips, such as wearing proper footwear (low heels, warm, waterproof and good traction). Ask employees to report slip, trip and fall hazards to their supervisor.
- Assess the effectiveness of your prevention measures. Are snow and ice promptly cleared from walkways, parking lots and loading docks? Are they deposited in a safe place? Are entrances and exits to buildings unobstructed and overhanging snowdrifts removed?
2. Cold stress
Cold stress, the inability to maintain core body temperature, can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, which can be life-threatening. Employees who work outside part or all of the time are at risk. Your cold stress prevention program should include:
- training for supervisors and workers on the hazards, health effects and prevention of cold-related illness. This includes safe work practices, re-warming procedures, clothing and personal protective equipment, how to recognize cold stress/frostbite, and signs and symptoms of hypothermia
- monitoring of outdoor workers by a supervisor
- acclimatizing new employees to working in the cold
- providing adequate rest breaks and warming shelters
- organizing work so that people alternate between working in the cold and working in a warm environment.
3. Winter driving
If employees drive for work in a company-owned or personal vehicle, the vehicle is considered their workplace under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. That means you should have a procedure in place that outlines training, support, monitoring and reporting requirements.
Communicate the following safety tips to everyone in the workplace who drives (not only those who drive for work).
- use snow tires
- slow down and adjust speed for weather and road conditions
- check road and weather conditions before you head out
- allow more time to get to where you are going
- understand how your car handles in winter
- keep a safe distance from other cars
- check defrosters/heaters, antifreeze levels, brakes and battery
- ensure lights and indicators are working
- use winter-specific wiper blades and carry extra windshield washer fluid
- completely clean the outside of your car before you leave; chunks of ice and snow can pose a hazard to you and others
- keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent moisture in the fuel line
- carry winter survival gear including a blanket, first aid kit, food that won't spoil (granola bars), water, matches, extra clothing and boots, shovel, flashlight, flares and booster cables.
How WSPS can help
Slips, Trips and Falls
Check out our extensive range of slip, trip and fall resources.
Tap into our consultants' expertise. We can help you develop a winter driving policy and procedures, and lead lunch 'n learns or awareness sessions on winter driving hazards.
- Working in Cold Environments (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS))
- Cold Environments - Health Effects & First Aid (CCOHS)
- Heat and Cold Stress (Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development)
- Cold Stress (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH))
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.