Managing Winter Workplace Hazards
Workplace Safety Division
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Planning for winter weather at the workplace includes more than just having a bag of rock salt on hand or hanging a poster in the employee break room. Taking a look around your facility (inside and outside) will help you identify the winter hazards you will need to mitigate.
Parking lots and sidewalks
Parking lots and sidewalks share a common hazard: They can be incredibly slippery in the snow, especially when it hides a layer of ice underneath. Keeping outdoor areas clear of snow and ice in the winter can be a challenge, so having a well-established plan is crucial. An added advantage of keeping parking lots and sidewalks clear is that less snowmelt will be brought inside the building on employees’ feet, so entranceways aren’t as likely to have wet, slippery floors. Be sure snow is removed from the parking lot and sidewalks at least a half hour before shifts begin and end to prevent employees from slipping and falling.
If walking on snow and ice is unavoidable, encourage employees to wear footwear with good traction and insulation and to take shorter steps at a slower pace to react quickly to changes in the ground surface. Also train workers how to recognize the symptoms of cold stress and prevent cold stress injuries and illnesses. They should also know how to provide first aid and call for additional medical assistance in an emergency.
Employees working outdoors
Working outdoors in cold weather can quickly take its toll on workers. Employers should consider scheduling outdoor work during the warmer part of the day, avoid activities on roofs or elevated heights, and plan ahead for safe snow removal. For employees who must work outdoors, cold stress injuries such as trench foot, hypothermia, frostbite, overexertion and dehydration are common risks.
If work must be done outdoors, consider the following:
- Wind chill factors
- Acclimation of the workforce
- Wetness/dampness that makes workers colder faster
- Physical conditioning and health issues
- Required fall protection and training when working on a roof or elevated heights
- Ensure ladders are used safely
- Use extreme caution when working near power lines
- Prevent harmful exposure to cold temperatures and physical exertion
Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have a duty to protect workers from recognized hazards, including cold stress risks, that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm in the workplace. Providing appropriate winter clothing — including eye protection, hats, facemasks, waterproof boots and gloves — is essential to keeping employees safe from injuries.
Even with appropriate winter clothing, time working outdoors may still need to be limited depending on the temperature, wind chill and other factors. In addition to protective clothing, have a plan for warming employees and making sure they don’t become dehydrated.
No one can control rain, snow or ice. However, facilities that have plans in place to prevent inclement weather from creating workplace hazards are better able to manage these events and minimize the potential for slips and falls and, ultimately, reduce lost work time or worker compensation costs associated with a mishap. Don’t wait until the snow starts to fall to review your winter safety plans. Remind employees of cold weather hazards and ensure the right tools and equipment are available and ready for use.
For more information on preventing injuries from winter weather conditions, visit the OSHA website at https://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/winter_weather/index.html.