Protecting workers is a priority with dangerously cold temperatures and inches of snow covering much of the U.S. Federal safety regulators are urging employers to be aware of the special dangers winter presents and take the proper precautions to keep their workers safe while outdoors.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), dangers posed by some of the most basic activities, such shoveling snow or even just walking on it, are amplified by frigid temperatures.
Workers whose duties include snow shoveling should take some simple but potentially life-saving precautions to reduce the risk of exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, and heart attack. OSHA advises snow shovelers to:
- Warm up before starting;
- Take frequent breaks;
- Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages;
- Avoid heavy lifting and strain by shoveling small amounts of snow at a time;
- Whenever possible, push the snow instead of lifting it;
- If lifting is unavoidable, be sure to use proper form, keeping the back straight and using legs and arms to do the lifting.
Sometimes workers must clear snow from rooftops and other elevated surfaces as well. In these cases, employers must make sure their employees are given the standard fall-prevention protections. Even with such protections, workers should use extra caution to avoid slipping on icy surfaces and falling and remain vigilant of surfaces that may collapse because of ice and snow accumulation.
Even just walking on snow and ice is hazardous, and OSHA advises workers and employers to mitigate the increased risk of slips and falls with these recommendations:
- Keep walkways cleared of ice and snow, using salt or an equivalent as necessary.
- Wear insulated shoes or boots with good rubber treads for traction while working in snow and on ice-covered surfaces.
- Take shorter steps and walk at slower pace than usual. This will enable you to react quickly if you begin to slip and will help you regain your footing.
- If walking alongside a street is necessary, always walk against the traffic and as close to the curb as possible.
- Be vigilant of vehicles that may have lost traction, as they can spin or slide into your path. Also be aware that vehicles may have a hard time stopping at crosswalks and traffic signals in wintery weather.
- Wear bright, reflective clothing at night so you will be visible to drivers.
- During the day wear sunglasses so that you can better see and avoid walking hazards.
Even when there is no snow or ice, working in the cold weather increases the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that causes freezing in the deep layers of skin and tissue. The damage done by frostbite can be permanent. According to OSHA, workers can recognize frostbite as “a loss of feeling and a waxy-white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes.”
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion.
To help employers and employees alike understand and reduce the risks of working in cold weather, OSHA offers additional resources. Check out the agency’s “Cold Stress Safety and Health” guide and “How Cold is Too Cold?” guide.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor