‘Tis the Season: Improving safety in winter

As the days grow shorter and the cold weather creeps in, the risks and opportunities for accidents increase. Winter weather’s true danger is not what you can see, but what you cannot. Cold weather hazards come in many forms, including but not limited to, harsh temperatures and exposure, slippery walking surfaces, black ice nearly invisible on asphalt, and snow cover concealing roadside ditches. These unseen threats can cause damage to equipment and, worse, injury to workers. To help reduce incident risk to employees and prevent equipment from becoming just another unseen hazard, here are a few tips to keep your operations running smoothly throughout the winter months.

Train Workers to Recognize and Help Prevent Cold-related Illnesses
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says contractors who are exposed to extreme weather conditions, such as freezing temps, may be at risk of “cold stress.” Most commonly, this is due to working in cold conditions for long periods, leading to high risks of hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure workers understand the danger signs, including “uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue, and confused behavior” (OSHA). Stay well-nourished as your body uses nutrients as energy to stay warm in cold temperatures and make sure to drink enough fluids, as you dehydrate faster in cold weather conditions. Dressing in layers is also important as it not only keeps you warm but allows you to adjust to changing temperatures. Plan breaks throughout your day in a warm area when available to avoid overexposure to cold conditions.

Train Equipment Operators on Winter Driving Techniques
Reaction times are drastically reduced and normal vehicle reactions are much different in winter—often due to slippery and icy road conditions. Additional training during the cold weather months can help prevent losses and maintain productivity in winter. OSHA recommends employers train all vehicle and equipment operators in winter driving safety measures for specific vehicles and equipment. Train drivers to safely maneuver when approaching slippery roads and surfaces, dealing with winter’s windy conditions, avoiding damaged power lines and equipment, and any other conditions that arise due to weather conditions. Additionally, employers are responsible for ensuring all operators are properly licensed and certifications are up to date.

Cold Weather Jobsite Modifications
Additional safety precautions may be necessary due to winter weather conditions. Identify job site areas where winter weather could introduce new hazards such as falling ice, slick or frozen surfaces, electrical hazards, and more. Inspect working surfaces that may not be as accustomed to cold weather and implement additional cold weather safety controls at the plant or on the road. Understand any of the ice and snow removal materials and the proper methods of use to get the best results in the winter months. Ensure routes are clear before traveling as ice and compact snow often hide edges, ditches, and uneven surfaces that may not be able to hold a heavy vehicle’s weight. Delineate unsafe areas with visible barricades and visuals.

High Visibility from All Angles
Poor visibility plays one of the most dangerous roles during winter and can be fatal if workers are unprepared. Effectively draw attention to moving vehicles, workers, equipment, and surrounding hazards using highly reflective and high-visibility materials. Apply high-intensity reflective tape for increased daytime and nighttime visibility. Reflective, stick-on shapes can add additional reflection and can be easily applied wherever needed, like vehicle fenders, other equipment and machinery, PPE, and smaller items like tools and emergency equipment that may be difficult to find or see in low-light situations. Warn other vehicles to keep a safe operating distance from equipment with bold signs that are easy to read. Vehicle headlights alone may not be enough to effectively display ground conditions or overhead hazards, so avoid operating machinery in poor light conditions.

Ensure your workers are taking the proper precautions to physically take care of themselves and are trained on the various changes and modifications to their normal working procedures throughout the winter season.