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Brrr…It’s Cold Outside! Winter Safety Hazards and How to Avoid Them

Colder temperatures and shorter daylight hours in winter months can result in workplace hazards, especially for employees who work outdoors or who drive as a part of their job. On icy days, walking to and from the company parking lot can pose risk. Here are some steps you can take to help protect employees.

#1: Check heating, insulation, and ventilation systems.

Ensure proper heating, insulation, ventilation, and humidity in indoor environments and monitor these systems regularly. Consider prohibiting space heaters in the workplace, which can increase the risk of fire. Make sure thermometers are placed in all areas in which workers are exposed to cold temperatures and shield workers from drafty or windy conditions.

#2: Require proper clothing for work conditions.

Instruct employees who work in cold conditions to dress in layers so that they may adjust to changing conditions and to wear a hat, gloves, and insulated boots. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends employers wear at least three layers: (1) an inner layer made of a material that keeps water away from skin (such as polypropylene), (2) a middle layer to provide insulation (such as wool or synthetic), and (3) an outer layer to shield wind and rain.

#3: Schedule work and breaks carefully.

If possible, schedule work in cold environments for the warmest part of the day. In addition, ensure that employees can take breaks in a comfortable, warm setting, such as a heated room or tent. If possible, set the pace of the work to avoid excessive sweating and allow each employee to work at his or her own pace.

#4: Provide guidance on good eating habits.

Instruct employees working in colder climates to avoid drinking coffee and other drinks with caffeine, which causes water loss and may result in dehydration. According to OSHA, employees should drink warm sweet beverages (such as sports-type drinks) instead. Employees should also eat warm, high-calorie foods.

#5: Promote safe driving.

Before the winter, inspect company vehicles (including brakes, tires, batteries, lights, wipers, antifreeze, heaters, belts, hoses, filters, and oil) and ensure vehicles are equipped with stocked emergency kits. When driving in winter conditions, instruct employees to leave more time to get to work and business meetings, drive slowly, maintain a consistent speed, and leave plenty of distance in between their vehicle and the one in front of them.

#6: Maintain parking lots and walkways.

Monitor parking lots and walkways regularly to ensure that they are safe for pedestrians. Place mats at each entrance to control snow, ice, and water as employees enter the building. Remind employees that when there is ice or snow, they should wear appropriate footwear and put the company on notice of slippery areas.

#7: Promote good hygiene.

Help employees keep the workplace clean and reduce the spread of the flu, common cold, and other communicable diseases. Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap and sanitizer, and disposable towels. Encourage employees to stay home from work if they have the flu or another virus. You may also want to encourage (but not require) employees to get a flu shot and other vaccinations.

#8: Address the winter blues.

For some employees, stress, depression, and other mental health issues can flare up during the winter months. If you have an employee assistance program, remind employees of the resources available to them and consider organizing morale-boosting activities, such as company outings or volunteer opportunities.

Final thoughts:

Understand the safety and health hazards your employees face during the winter months and take steps to address them.

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