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Winter Safety

Dec
4

The mere mention of the word “winter”, regardless of where you live in this great country, never fails to illicit, at the very least, a cringe but mention driving in winter, or working in winter conditions and the response is inevitably more pronounced. Icy conditions, snow, and extreme temperatures present a number of potential hazards from dangerous driving conditions to downed power lines; cold stress; slips, trips and falls; and carbon monoxide exposure. Following are some things to consider when it comes to site, worker and personal safety.

Preparedness

Planning for business interruptions, emergencies, and disasters is an important part of owning and running a business. An emergency preparedness plan outlines procedures for handling sudden or unexpected situations, and is an important component of any workplace health and safety program. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, there are six key steps to emergency planning:

  • Establish the planning team: representatives from all departments and levels, with support from senior management, is most effective
  • Assess the risks and company capabilities
  • Develop the emergency response plan
  • Implement the plan: obtain equipment, communicate, and train
  • Test the plan: hold drills or simulation exercises
  • Improve the plan continuously

Some of the elements that an emergency preparedness plan should include are: a description of the scope and scale of potential emergencies specific to the region in which the business operates; a list of the methods of initiating a response; site-specific response procedures; the command structure, roles and responsibilities; procedures for shutting down the power and for evacuations; a communication plan and an emergency contact list.

Exposure

“A strong safety culture extends to all seasons, even in winter when cold stress is common among outdoor workers.” – Corey Berghoefer, Safety Tips to Prevent Winter-Related Workplace Accidents, EHS Today

Construction season does not end with the arrival of Old Man Winter. As the temperature drop, it is important to remember that prolonged exposure to cold, wet and windy conditions, even when the temperatures are above freezing, can be dangerous. Frostbite and hypothermia are the two main consequences of cold exposure. To avoid injuries and minimize lost time incidents it is important to know the signs and take precautions.

Signs of Hypothermia:

  • Shivering or shaking
  • Lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Slurred speech

Signs of Frostbite:

  • Skin that is very cold and turns numb, hard and pale
  • Blisters or swelling
  • Joint or muscle stiffness

Follow these simple precautions to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:

  • Watch the weather – forewarned is forearmed
  • Wear several layers of clothing as opposed to dressing in one thick layer
  • Protect extremities by wearing gloves and proper fitting foot wear. Consider adding an additional pair of socks on very cold days
  • Take frequent short breaks in a warm shelter to allow the body to warm up
  • Eat warm, high calorie food like pasta. The body expends more energy in cold conditions so eating a proper diet will go a long way toward combatting fatigue

Slips, Trips and Falls

In Canada, more than 42,000 workers get injured annually due to falls, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Statistics show the majority (66%) are due to slips and trips on the same level. The remaining (34%) are falls from heights, such as ladders, stairs, or roofs. Winter worksite conditions create an increased risk for injuries related to slips, trips and fall. To avoid injury, employees should:

  • Walk slowly and deliberately, and remain focused on the path ahead. This is especially true when carrying heavy and/or awkward objects
  • Where possible, avoid slippery surfaces, such as wet or icy areas, and snow banks
  • Wear appropriate footwear with slip-resistant soles to work, and change into indoor footwear (NOTE: ice grippers that attach to footwear can provide additional traction for walking and working outside)
  • Use handrails where available
  • Check to make sure entrance areas and stairs are clear of snow and slush as these create slippery conditions

It is business owner/employer’s responsibility to:

  • Monitor the weather and keep parking lots, walkways and worksites clear of snow
  • Given that the daylight hours are reduced during winter months, it is important to provide adequate lighting for parking lots, walkways and worksites
  • Clearly identify steps, ramps, and other elevation changes
  • Secure mats and rugs that do not lay flat
  • Ensure that workers who are required to work in cold conditions, wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Define everyone’s role in preventing slips and falls, and communicate those roles to all employees
  • Follow up and, if necessary, address slip, trip and fall concerns reported by employees and other visitors to the business

Carbon Monoxide

To prevent exposure to CO gas:

  • When heating an enclosed space, use an indirect-fired heater
  • Check propane vehicle-cab heaters for leaks and proper venting
  • Operate engines outdoors when possible
  • When engines must be operated indoors, take the following precautions:
    • Choose electric rather than fuel-powered equipment
    • Make sure the area is well ventilated. Keep doors and windows open, and use fans to bring in fresh air
    • Monitor CO levels regularly with a gas detector

Winter Driving

In addition to the driving hazards related to changing road conditions during the winter months, wildlife can also provide an increased risk, especially during the hours of dawn and dusk. Having the proper tires and ensuring appropriate tire pressures is critical to avoid driving related incidents. Some other tips for getting from Point A to Point B safely during the winter months are:

  • Maintain and service vehicles regularly
  • Monitor the weather and allow extra travel time
  • Avoid distracted driving – eating, drinking, and using cellphones and other electronic devices
  • Ensure that vehicles are equipped with the following:
    • Winter survival kit that includes a flashlight, jumper cables, kitty litter or other coarse friction enhancing material, snow brush/ice scraper, warning devices, blankets, energy-boosting snacks, and water
    • Shovel

Winter can be a magical time of year, filled with unique activities and experiences for the winter enthusiast but the unpredictability of this season make preparedness a crucial element in preventing injuries both on and off the worksite.

For more information, check out the following Tool Box Talks that relate to winter conditions:

Emergency Preparedness

Foot Protection Safety

Lighting Conditions

Temporary Heating

Frostbite

Slips, Trips and Falls

Winter Site Safety

Working in Cold Weather

 

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