Workplace safety in the winter presents particular challenges. Ice and snow make walking and driving outside more dangerous, which is of particular concern to those who work outside, including construction workers, drivers, utility repairmen and many public service workers (e.g. firefighters, police officers, etc.). Shorter daylight hours present safety challenges from poorer visibility. Those who work outside for extended periods also have to concern themselves with hypothermia. Below are some ideas for preventing injuries resulting from winter conditions.
Improving Worker Safety on Ice and Snow
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average hospital cost for a fall injury is more than $30,000, a figure that increases with the age of the workforce. Traction is worse in the ice and snow, yet when it's cold, people tend to hurry more to get into a warmer environment, rather than walking more slowly and carefully to avoid injury.
EHS Today pointed out that ice and snow also provide hazards for indoor workers because parking lots, walkways and similar outside areas are often overlooked for removal. Trustees should remind members to be proactive in identifying hazard areas so that snow and ice can be removed. Additionally, members should avoid carrying heavier loads because they make it harder to maintain one's balance. Hazardous areas should also be marked and members should wear footwear with heavier tread for any outdoor work.
Contending With Less Daylight
Construction workers and anyone else working outdoors should not only don reflective gear but recognize that drivers don't see as well in lower light conditions. Extra care should be taken into account for the lower visibility and for drivers and others who may cause hazards.
The Mayo Clinic defined hypothermia as when a body loses heat faster than it can be produced to the point that the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. If left untreated, this dangerous condition can lead to organ failure and death.
EHS Today recommended workers exposed to the cold protect themselves with multiple layers of clothing that have moisture-wicking and wind-resistant properties, as well as gloves and hard hat liners. The article also noted that those working in windy conditions are likely to get colder faster.
If hypothermia is expected, the person should move to a warm, dry area. All wet clothes should be exchanged for dry clothes. Medical assistance should be sought as soon as possible to minimize any potential damage.
Whether the upcoming winter season is mild, normal or cold, there will be days in most areas of the country when shorter daylight hours, snow, ice and cold make workplace safety in the winter challenging. But by making members aware of the dangers and recommending prevention and treatment steps, trusts protect them from these seasonal dangers. This keeps members healthier and happier, preventing unnecessary expenses for winter workplace injuries that could have been avoided.
Phil Britt has worked as a journalist for 40 years, specializing in business issues for the last 30. His work covering the steel industry and its labor issues has been referenced in books, while his articles have appeared on numerous websites, national and international publications. Among current and past clients have been the American Medical Association, Afcom, the Credit Union National Association, Independent Banker, EH Publishing, the Southeast Chicago Development Commission, the Northwest Indiana Times and Insurance & Technology Magazine, just to name a few.