Protecting Workers During Winter Storm Season
Recent heavy storms make it clear that winter is officially here, and the worst is likely yet to come. As an employer, among your top concerns is doing what you can to keep your workers safe during winter storms.
In order to assist employers with identifying winter storm hazards and protecting their workers from these dangers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains an online resource containing both general and job specific information for preparing for and working in winter storm conditions.
The hazards associated with working in winter storms are numerous and include:
- being struck by falling objects such as icicles, tree limbs, and utility poles
- driving accidents due to slippery roadways
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite
- exhaustion from strenuous activity
- back injuries or heart attack while removing snow
- slips and falls due to slippery walkways
- electrocution from downed power lines and downed objects in contact with power lines
- burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure
- falls from snow removal on roofs or while working in aerial lifts or on ladders
- roof collapse under weight of snow (or melting snow if drains are clogged)
- lacerations or amputations from unguarded or improperly operated chain saws and power tools, and improperly attempting to clear jams in snow blowers
What can employers do to keep workers safe while working in winter storm conditions? OSHA recommends various effective means of addressing winter storm hazards that you will find helpful no matter what business you're in:
- assuming all power lines are energized and staying well clear of any downed or damaged power lines
- making certain all powered equipment is properly guarded and disconnected from power sources before cleaning or performing maintenance
- using caution around surfaces weighed down by large amounts snow or of ice
- scooping small amounts of snow and using proper lifting form to avoid overexertion or injuries
- clearing walking surfaces of snow and ice and using salt or its equivalent where appropriate
- providing and ensuring the use of fall protection, and providing and maintaining ladders
- staying in the vehicle--do not leave the vehicle unless help is visible within 100 yards
- wearing reflective clothing, and eye, face and body protection
- establishing and clearly marking work zones
- using engineering controls, personal protective equipment and safe work practices to reduce the length and severity of exposure to the cold
Links to further guidance from various agencies and organizations, such as the National Weather Service and the National Safety Council, are also provided on the OSHA online resource.
Winter storm dangers are serious and can result in severe injury or death. Take steps to help keep your workers--and yourself--safe, and in turn, your business productive until the spring thaw delivers some relief!