Tips for Preventing Winter Weather Injury and Illness
Winter is here in the United States, and that means freezing temperatures and inclement weather for many parts of the country. These conditions can of course impact outdoor workers, including glaziers and installers.
To help prevent cold-related sickness and injury, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration created cold weather resources for employers. The following are some major takeaways; the full guidance and list of resources can be found at osha.gov.
Prevent cold stress in workers
Employees who labor outside can be vulnerable to cold stress during winter. According to OSHA, “cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result.” Frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot are all examples of cold stress.
To prevent cold stress, OSHA recommends that companies do the following:
- Train employees how to recognize the conditions and symptoms that lead to cold stress. This will differ depending on the type of cold stress (for example, frostbite results in reddened skin with gray/white patches). See OSHA's guidance for a full list of symptoms and recommended first aid for each situation.
- Schedule short breaks in warm or heated areas, and choose warmer parts of the day for work.
- Use a buddy system, or have employees work in pairs.
- Dress for cold weather. The last measure can include wearing at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing, as tight clothing reduces blood circulation.
Identify environmental hazards, especially on roofs
In addition to freezing temperatures, winter also brings other environmental hazards, such as snow and ice. These risks can be compounded for workers who labor at heights, such as glaziers and installers.
OSHA recommends caution and careful planning when workers are laboring at heights or on roofs during winter. OSHA guidance says that surfaces weighed down by snow should be inspected prior to work to determine structural safety. Guidance also directs employers to remove snow from roofs without workers on the roof, if possible. To prevent slips on snow and ice, OSHA recommends:
- Wearing insulated and water-resistant boots with rubber treads, especially if employees are outside working after a winter storm.
- Workers should also take shorter steps, at a slower pace, so they can react quickly to icy conditions.
Drive safely but prepare for breakdowns
Installers and glaziers are not the only industry employees laboring outside in winter. Those working in transportation, driving trucks or cars, also are subject to winter weather conditions. To help promote employee safety during inclement weather and dangerous road conditions, employers can ensure that drivers are licensed for the vehicles they are operating, and that the vehicles are properly maintained, according to OSHA guidance.
In the case of crashes or other difficulties on the road during transit, employees should have an emergency kit that includes:
- a cellphone or two-way radio
- windshield ice scraper
- snow brush
- flashlight, shovel
- tow chain
- traction aids
- emergency flares
- jumper cables
- road maps
- a change of clothes