Winter-proof your workforce: Safety tips that stick

Winter-proof your workforce: Safety tips that stick
Alastair Barrett
Alastair BarrettWhat No Safety Services Ltd

Posted: Wed 7th Feb 2024

For countless employees across various industries, cold weather brings a shift in their work environment, often presenting unique challenges and potential hazards.

From blustery construction sites to snow-covered delivery routes, ensuring employee safety during winter requires proactivity and a commitment to creating a safe work environment.

Understanding the risks:

1. Cold stress

Working in cold weather comes with the hidden danger of cold stress. When exposed for too long, your body loses heat faster than it can make it.

This can lead to hypothermia, a serious condition where your core temperature drops below 95°F (35°C). Think of it like your body's internal thermostat malfunctioning. Muscles tighten, thinking gets fuzzy and eventually if left untreated, it can be deadly.

The key is catching cold stress early. Watch for warning signs like shivering, numbness, slurred speech and confusion. Dress warmly, take breaks in warm places and stay hydrated to avoid trouble.

2. Slips, trips and falls

Winter turns walkways into obstacle courses. Icy patches and snowdrifts hide uneven surfaces, making slips and falls common.

These can mean anything from a bruised ego to broken bones, so watch your step! Wear boots with good tread, take smaller steps and use handrails whenever possible.

3. Reduced visibility

Winter days bring shorter daylight hours and unpredictable storms, making it easy to lose sight of what's ahead. This can be risky for drivers who rely on clear vision and equally dangerous for outdoor workers navigating snowy landscapes.

Stay informed about weather forecasts, adjust your schedule if necessary and use reflective gear or headlights to improve visibility when needed.

4. Carbon monoxide poisoning

Generators and other fuel-powered equipment are winter workhorses but they can also be silent killers. Carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless gas produced by these machines, can quickly build up in enclosed spaces, leading to poisoning and even death.

Be aware of the risks, ensure proper ventilation when using such equipment and install carbon monoxide detectors in potentially affected areas. Remember, prevention is key when it comes to this invisible threat.

Equipping your workforce for winter safety

1. Protective clothing

  • Layering is key: Encourage employees to dress in layers of loose-fitting clothing, starting with a moisture-wicking base layer, followed by an insulating mid-layer and a wind- and waterproof outer layer.

  • Footwear matters: Invest in high-quality boots with good traction and insulation. Look for soles with deep treads for gripping snow and ice.

  • Don't forget the extremities: Warm hats, gloves and scarves are essential for preventing heat loss from the head, hands and feet.

2. Plans and procedures

  • Develop a winter safety plan: This plan should outline procedures for snow and ice removal, de-icing walkways and addressing emergencies.

  • Regular maintenance: Ensure equipment, vehicles and tools are properly maintained and winterised to function safely in cold weather.

  • Clear walkways and work areas: Promptly remove snow and ice from walkways, loading docks and other work areas to prevent slips and falls.

  • Adequate lighting: Ensure proper lighting is available in all work areas, especially during shorter daylight hours.

  • Communication is crucial: Keep employees informed about weather forecasts and any changes to work schedules or procedures due to winter weather.

3. Individual awareness and responsibility

  • Know the signs of cold stress: Educate employees on the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite and empower them to take action if they experience them or notice them in a colleague.

  • Stay hydrated and fuelled: Encourage regular water breaks and consumption of warm beverages to prevent dehydration, which can worsen the effects of cold weather.

  • Take breaks: Schedule regular breaks for employees to warm up indoors and avoid overexertion in cold weather.

  • Mind your footing: Be cautious when walking on slippery surfaces, take smaller steps and use handrails whenever possible.

  • Report hazards: Encourage employees to report any unsafe conditions or potential hazards immediately to their supervisor.

Remember, winter safety is a shared responsibility. By implementing these measures and fostering a culture of safety awareness, employers can equip their workforce to navigate the winter season productively and, most importantly, safely.

Relevant resources

Alastair Barrett
Alastair BarrettWhat No Safety Services Ltd

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