The MedRisk Blog
Depending on your business location, winter can bring serious threats to the health and safety of your workforce. In the frosty Midwest, for instance, slips and falls represent one-third of all workers’ compensation claims during winter months. Not only this, but simply working outside during colder temperatures has been shown to increase the prevalence of low back and neck pain.
It is the responsibility of employers to provide a safe working environment for all employees, free of known hazards that are likely to cause serious physical harm. Here are some tips for carrying out this responsibility and supporting your employees’ well-being this winter.
Many businesses have mission-critical tasks that require workers to be outside during the winter months; however, there are ways to help mitigate the effects of cold-weather conditions.
Thinking big picture, determine which routine outdoor tasks, like repair or maintenance jobs, can be handled in spring or summer. When drawing up daily schedules, try to limit the amount of time spent outdoors and plan work for the warmest part of the day. If outdoor work is unavoidable on an extremely cold day, think about whether shorter shifts can be accommodated by adding extra workers to the rotation. Give your workers some reprieve by offering sheltered areas to reduce wind chill and supply blast heaters where needed. Employees can also beat the chill by taking breaks indoors and consuming warm beverages throughout the day.
If not tended to properly, ice and snow can increase the risk of slips and falls for outdoor workers. Before each winter, review and confirm your maintenance plan to apply ice melt or salt to your parking lots, walkways, loading/shipping docks and steps. Lay down mats near entrances to prevent tracked ice, snow and mud and slippery conditions, and if appropriate, consider adding a mudroom or entry room for workers to remove and store boots and outerwear.
Depending on your business’s buildings, rooftop snow removal may also be needed, as overloaded structures can lead to potential collapse. Bear in mind that rooftop snow removal can lead to serious injury in and of itself if not executed safely. Read OSHA’s Snow Removal: Know the Hazards pamphlet for more information.
Although it’s important to factor forecasts into your operations, there will always be occasions when winter conditions come on suddenly. In these instances, employee communications can be critical, even lifesaving. Have a system in place for monitoring weather conditions and remaining attuned to public announcements related to severe weather (e.g., sirens, radio and television). Likewise, give your employees a phone number to call should they notice sudden winter conditions, become stranded in a company vehicle, or see a hazard such as a downed tree or power line that must be mitigated. And if operations must be suspended or an area is to be evacuated, be sure your communication methods allow you to reach all workers, including those in remote areas.
Environmental cold can affect exposed workers and put them at risk of cold stress, which occurs when the body can no longer maintain a normal temperature. And cold stress can lead to cold-related illness or injury, permanent tissue damage, or death. As you train employees in ways to prevent these winter weather ailments, consider the following:
Whether your organization’s primary work environment is indoors or outdoors, winter requires planning and vigilance. By taking precautions to minimize illness and injury, you can safeguard the well-being of your workers and maximize operability this winter.
Sign up for the MedRisk newsletter to get the latest updates from the leading provider of managed physical medicine.
Please fill out this form to receive an access code to see our full list of clients.
Fill out our User Validation Form to gain access.GO
Please fill out the following form for an access code to see our full Providers list.