Cold weather presents increased risks to your workforce in a variety of ways: It can directly injure the body, aggravate existing physical injuries and even cause injury through changes in our environments. However, you can mitigate the risk. All of these injuries can be prevented—with preparation.
Low Temperatures and Wind Chill
The physical elements of cold—cold temperatures, rain, sleet, snow and wind—can cause direct injury to the skin and body. The mildest form of injury is chilblains, which is a skin tissue injury. This occurs when uncovered skin is exposed to low temperatures and wind. A more serious tissue injury is frostbite. In frostbite whole appendages such as fingers, ears and noses are damaged. Frostbite can even result in amputation in severe cases. The most serious kind of cold-related injury is hypothermia. This type of injury compromises the makeup of vital organs such as the heart and brain.
Remember, air temperature is only part of the picture. Wind chills can cause harm beyond the digits on the thermometer. For a wind chill calculator, visit the National Weather Service online.
Ice and snow cause usually trustworthy surfaces to become slippery, and these fall hazards can be a source of significant injury. Persistent maintenance of workplace walking areas with snow-removal and ice-melt products will minimize fall hazards and risk of injury. In addition, warning signage can alert employees to concerning surfaces.
Nowhere are the changes in physical elements more apparent than on the roadway. Pay attention to in-climate weather reports and warnings and heed them. Maintain ample fuel levels at all times in threatening weather, and be vigilant in maintaining the charge in cell phones. All vehicles should have an emergency kit, including a warm thermal blanket, chemical warming packets and nonperishable sources of calories. A small shovel, a 20- to 50-lb bag of ice-melt or sand, a flashlight and a battery-powered radio are also reasonable accessories.
If a vehicle accident occurs, stay with your vehicle. On high-traffic, slippery roads, be extremely reluctant with assisting other vehicles. This is a recipe for pedestrian versus vehicle mishaps. Significant injury has occurred when a well-meaning motorist comes to the assistance of another vehicle only to be struck by an out-of-control passing vehicle.
Protect and Prevent
Cold joints and muscles lack the flexibility and resiliency that is present when appropriately warmed. As such, wind- and water-resistant outerwear can help maintain adequate body heat, joint function and muscular flexibility. This is particularly important in relatively sedentary outdoor work.
Appropriate headgear is another key to preserving core temperatures. Readily available personal protective equipment will assist employees in decreasing their exposure risk. Adequately maintaining equipment heaters and using accessory winterizing equipment such as cab covers to maintain extremity warmth can also minimize the chances of injury.
Most employees are prepared for the expected, but what would be needed if the job didn’t go as planned? What would be needed if fundamental equipment failed or left them stranded? What supplies would they need if they were exposed to the elements? These are the questions that will help prepare employees for winter weather when the elements are critically demanding.