Every year, the onset of winter brings with it a new set of safety challenges. Snow can reduce visibility; ice can cause slips, falls, and collisions; and cold temperatures can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related illnesses. Outdoor workers should take special precautions in the winter months to ensure their safety. Below are three of the most common wintertime hazards and what you can do to stay safe at work this winter.
1. Vehicle Collisions
About: Winter brings with it a slew of driving hazards: slippery roads could cause reduced tire traction, resulting in skids and slips, and winter precipitation like snow and sleet can dramatically reduce visibility.
Recommended safety measures: Ensure that the vehicle you will be driving for work is in peak operating condition ahead of winter. Get a complete winter tune-up to make sure that mechanical issues will not arise while you are driving in dangerous conditions. Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle in case the worst should happen and you end up stranded in the cold.
2. Slips and falls.
About: Around 42,000 Canadian workers sustain injuries from slips or falls every year. Slips and falls are one of the most commonly reported workplace injuries, and one of the most preventable. For outdoor workers in wintertime, this risk is increased by the prevalence of slippery, icy conditions.
Recommended safety measures: Anticipate slips and falls by using sand or rock salt on icy areas in and around your workspace. Use proper footwear for the weather conditions you will be working in: for example, anti-slip boots with strong grips. Never use consume alcohol while on the job; it can drastically impede your coordination and balance, significantly increasing your risk of injury on slippery surfaces.
3. Cold-related injuries/illnesses.
About: The two most dangerous illnesses caused by cold weather are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when bare skin is exposed to cold temperatures and can occur beginning at around -15 C. At this temperature, skin tissue freezes and dies, causing redness and hardness of the skin followed by the skin turning dark blue or black. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature sinks below 35 C; this medical state can slow or stops the functioning of vital organs when left untreated, resulting in death.
Recommended safety measures: If you must work in extremely cold temperatures, take frequent breaks out of the cold and dress in layers with particular attention paid to protecting the hands, feet, and face. Mittens offer your hands the best protection because when fingers are in contact with one another they generate and preserve more body heat. Avoid nicotine because, as a vasoconstrictor (i.e.: a substance that narrows blood vessels), it will reduce your body’s ability to retain heat. Finally, listen to your body: if you begin to experience the symptoms of frostbite (redness, hardness, numbness, or peeling of the skin) or hypothermia (disorientation, slurred speech, and drowsiness) get yourself out of the cold and indoors immediately. If you believe you are experiencing the onset of hypothermia, call 9-1-1 immediately; this is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention and treatment.
Winter brings with it its own share of workplace risks and hazards. Following this simple guide will help you be prepared for the worst this winter, avoid injury, and stay safe.