Preparing Workers for Winter Weather Risks

As the beloved holiday classic song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of year”. And while many of us will be preparing our homes and offices for the holiday cheer, it is also a time of year to pay special attention to some seasonal safety basics.

While Brauner Safety Services is based in Florida and does not face extreme cold-weather conditions, training and consulting services are provided throughout the U.S., and many clients are currently facing or preparing for cold weather that can pose serious challenges for outdoor workers, including construction and roofing professionals.

According to OSHA, winter weather can expose outdoor workers to frostbite, hypothermia, and cold stress, all of which can be fatal, and while OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, employers have a responsibility to provide workers with employment and a workplace which are free from recognized hazards, including cold stress.

For this reason, OSHA has dedicated a section of its website to educating and preparing employers for cold-weather hazards, offering resources and guidelines to keep you and your team safe. OSHA’s “Winter Weather: Prepare, Equip, Train” campaign and pages offer the latest safety information that any employer can use to keep team members safe during the cold winter months.  Here are just a few important and common areas covered that employers should consider when reviewing or creating their own winter weather safety plans:

  1. Winter Driving – At Brauner Safety Services, driving safety training is offered, and there are specific considerations related to cold weather. Although employers cannot control roadway conditions, they are certainly able to promote safe driving and prepare workers to recognize hazardous conditions, while understanding ways to mitigate risks. In addition to recognizing seasonal roadway risks, employers should implement a vehicle maintenance program to ensure vehicles are fully operational and properly equipped for cold temperatures; such preparations include vehicle safety checks, emergency kits, snowstorm driving procedures, hazard communication planning and more.  For information about driving safely during the winter, visit OSHA’s Safe Winter Driving handout.
  2. Removing Snow from Roofs and Elevations – Workers should be aware of the potential for unexpected hazards due to cold weather conditions. A surface (including rooftops) that is weighed down by snow should be inspected by a competent person to determine if it is structurally safe for workers to access it, as it may be at risk of collapsing. Additionally, snow-covered rooftops can hide hazards such as skylights, and if the appropriate rails and guards are not in place, it can easily be overlooked, leading to a fall through. Employers can protect workers from these hazardous conditions in a number of ways including using snow removal methods that do not involve workers going on roofs, as well as determining the right type of equipment (ladders, aerial lifts, etc.) and personal protective equipment (personal fall arrest systems, non-slip safety boots, etc.) for the job. For more information, see OSHA’s Hazard Alert: Falls and Other Hazards to Workers Removing Snow from Rooftops and Other Elevated Surfaces
  3. Work Zone Traffic Safety – Although preventative measures can be very effective, according to OSHA workers being struck by vehicles or mobile equipment continue to lead to numerous work zone fatalities or injuries every year. Cold weather conditions can lead to drivers losing control of their vehicles more easily, and for this reason, it is critical to properly set up work zones with the traffic controls identified by signs, cones, barrels, and barriers. Additionally, workers who are exposed to vehicular traffic should wear the appropriate high visibility vest at all times. You can learn more from OSHA by visiting: Work Zone Traffic Safety and Highway Work Zones and Signs, Signals, and Barricades (OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page).
  4. Cold Stress – While cold stress is a common risk, it can be prevented. The important thing to keep in mind is that cold stress is not limited to frigid and extreme conditions alone; cold stress and its impacts can vary across different regions. For example, in regions that are not accustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for “cold stress,” while other cold-weather regions have different guidelines for identifying cold stress conditions. Wind also plays a factor as increased wind speed can cause heat to leave the body more rapidly (wind chill effect). Wetness or dampness, even from body sweat, also facilitates heat loss from the body. In short, cold stress occurs by decreasing the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature, leading to the body being unable to properly warm and regulate temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur. Types of cold stress include but are not limited to trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. As published by OSHA, risk factors for cold stress include: Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly, and exhaustion; predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes; poor physical conditioning.

For more information, see OSHA’s Cold Stress Safety and Health Guide.

While the above listed areas serve as a good place to start preparing your crews for cold weather, they are just a small piece of a proper cold weather preparedness plan. To access the complete list of safety guidelines and resources covered by OSHA, visit their Winter Weather Safety page here. To have a consulting session to review your current safety plan, create a new one, and improve your team’s safety training practices and certifications, contact Brauner Safety Services.

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