No standard exists for determining when ice accumulation is severe enough that it will endanger workers. Most times, safety managers and supervisors must use their own judgment to alter work practices based on changes in weather conditions. We recommend that you plan ahead for anticipated hazards so you’ll be ready when conditions start to get dicey.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 25 percent of all businesses that were affected by a major disaster never reopen. Small businesses are especially vulnerable to disasters since they have less funds and personnel to restart operations and recover losses.
Here are four steps you can take to help maintain a safe work environment this season, regardless of the size or type of workplace you have:
1. Review Your Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
OSHA requires workplaces with 10 or more employees to have a written emergency action plan. Have a facility-wide emergency preparedness meeting, ideally well before the winter months. Getting a group discussion going promotes awareness throughout your facility about winter hazards likely to stall normal operations. Here are important emergency planning considerations for your workplace:
- Impact on operations: discuss the most common seasonal hazards that occur in your area, how it has affected operations in the past, and what everyone can prepare for. Take into account events like power outages and blackouts from high winds and storms, proper snow and ice removal procedures, and evacuations and emergency escape route procedures.
- Emergency communications: ensure employees know how to respond, who to contact, and how to communicate effectively in emergencies and when inclement weather affects normal operations.
- Emergency drills: simulate drills and scenarios in your facility on a regular basis and evaluate areas for improvement.
- Share resources: provide easily accessible resources to all employees that outline the most important workplace emergency procedures, like contact information and procedural reminders.
2. Perform a Job Hazard Analysis (JHA)
The goal of a JHA is to identify hazards in the workplace before they occur. Winter introduces unique and often unprecedented hazards. In 2014, there were over 42,000 workplace injuries and illnesses in the United States involving ice, sleet, or snow that required at least one day away from work to recover. Nearly 82% of these injuries and illnesses were due to falls on the same level (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
It’s important to consider how your worker’s normal tasks, tools, and work environment may need to change:
- Conduct a walk-through: focus on one job at a time throughout your facility to determine work areas that could pose new hazards. Are modifications to normal job tasks necessary to ensure safety? Look for leaks or melted snow that’s been tracked in that could cause electrical hazards, determine if equipment maintenance needs to change due to extreme temperature changes, and more. Always involve your employees in the JHA process to prevent the chance of oversight.
- Protect your building: take precautionary steps to protect your facility from weather and temperature changes by identifying areas vulnerable to damage. Maintain your roof and clear from debris like clogged gutters and downspouts, inspect for water leaks, cracked concrete, ponding water, and prepare your HVAC systems for winter with preventive maintenance. Clearly mark pipes and shut-off valves so they can be easily located in the event of a major leak or burst pipe emergency.
- Assign protective controls: determine what you need to provide extra safeguards for hazardous areas and tasks. To effectively address modifications, implement a “cold weather response” plan that consists of techniques to approach hazards such as product spills. Equip work areas with supplies to help quickly combat hazards like roof leaks using roof and pipe leak diverters and absorbent pads and rolls, ideal for keeping floors free of liquids and eliminate slip hazards.
- Document your plan: outline your findings and communicate them to your employees. Include all recommended changes to existing processes, new safety precautions, and any special equipment that needs to be introduced. Clearly convey new work procedures and reminders using custom labels and signs.
3. Prevent Cold-Related Illnesses & Injuries
Anyone working in the cold can be at risk of cold-related illnesses and injuries. In general, it doesn’t hurt to train all employees on recognizing the signs and symptoms of common cold-related illnesses including cold stress, hypothermia, and frostbite. Apply these controls to ensure worker safety:
- Adapt Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): evaluate if changes in PPE are needed to ensure worker safety. Although OSHA requires employers to protect workers’ safety and health, it is not required for employers to provide workers with clothing items used solely for the protection against weather, like winter coats (29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)). Regardless, ensure employees have access to protective clothing that provides warmth and require them to dress properly for the conditions.
- Prevent fatigue: keep energy levels up and prevent dehydration by providing workers with warm fluids and water. Also, try to minimize activities that cause heavy perspiration or reduces circulation.
- Have a buddy system: have employees ideally work in pairs or more to help monitor each other for symptoms of cold-related illnesses for added safety. Also, remind employees to keep their general health in mind. Post reminders to help prevent infection and illness in the workplace with visible “Wash Hands” and “Avoid Contamination” housekeeping and hygiene labels and signs.
4. Highlight Hazards Using Visuals
Bring hazards to attention using a variety of visual communication methods including signage, floor marking, wayfinding, and more. Poor visibility plays a large and dangerous role in the winter that can be detrimental if you don’t prepare for its effects:
- Keep areas clear: make sure pathways, work areas, and stairways are clear from unnecessary items that could cause potential injury.
- Emphasize hard-to-see areas: clearly highlight areas, items, and machinery when it becomes more difficult to navigate in low-light conditions. Outline egress pathways, door entries, low clearance ceilings, and other important areas that are in need of extra attention using PathFinder glow-in-the-dark and reflective tape.
- Provide extra traction: identify locations that are prone to being slippery or difficult to navigate by applying tread tape to keep employees stable. Tread tapes are perfect for areas that have a tendency to ice over and are ideal for application on stairs, doorways, ramps, and handrails.
- Implement temporary and outdoor signage: address hazards that may lurk in your facility as well as outdoors by placing durable premade signs and labels for icy conditions and slips, trips, and falls in areas that are prone to freeze over or get slick. Apply signage by door entries and parking lots, or use barricades, floor signs, and cones to warn passersby’s of hazards.
- Upgrade your wayfinding: locate where valuable signage and images should be installed to alert personnel of present hazards and recommended safe practices.
Invest in Winter Safety Solutions
Better protect your employees and facility against winter hazards this year with safety solutions you can add to your safety program now. Employees need to understand how to work safely when seasonal threats approach. Clearly communicating emergency procedures and posting reminders about new work procedures with employees is crucial to ensure overall safety. Visual communication plays a vital role for aiding in awareness and accident prevention.
Kelsey Rzepecki writes for Graphic Products, makers of the DuraLabel line of industrial label and sign printers.