A Guide to Keeping Your Outdoor Workers Safe in the Winter Weather
Preparing for winter weather doesn’t cross our minds usually until the first really cold morning of the year. Every year, many people are injured or even die because “Old Man Winter” catches us off guard. Taking a few minutes to think about cold weather safety may be the difference between surviving a winter weather emergency and becoming a statistic. The fact is more people are injured or even die during cold winter weather months that you may realize. According to the National Safety Council, more than 600 weather-related deaths occur each year, with 25% due to temperature extremes. An average of 11,500 injuries requiring medical treatment occur each year from shoveling – more than half from exertion, 20% from falls and nearly 7% from cardiac problems. Inside the home, 50% of home heating fires are reported in December, January, and February.
During Winter Storms / Working Outside in Extreme Cold
Employers should take measures to keep employees safe during dangerous weather conditions. Educate your employees on the following tips and recommendations so you don’t slip up this winter.
- Dress warmly in layers when going outside and remember that your extremities, such as the nose, ears, hands and feet, need extra attention. Wear warm gloves to keep hands warm
- Pace yourself when shoveling, and stretch to warm up before you begin
- Shovel when the snow is freshly fallen – push it as much as possible, rather than lifting
- You might try one of our ergo snow shovel devices for ease of clearing sidewalks, entry areas
- Keep all flammable materials away from heat sources, including space heaters
- Keep a survival kit in company and personal vehicles including an ice scraper and wool blanket
- Employees should be encouraged to take breaks, work with a buddy, drink warm beverages, and employers should monitor the working conditions throughout the day
- If you become stranded, don’t leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help and are certain you will improve your situation
- Stay indoors as much as possible during extreme temperatures
- Cover cracks around doors with rugs, newspapers, towels, or other similar materials
- When using heat from a fireplace, wood stove, or space heater be careful to check for good ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
- If your heat goes out, close off un-needed rooms
- If water pipes freeze, shut off the main source and minimize damage to your home. Then, call a plumber and contact your insurance agent. Also, never try to thaw a frozen water pipe with an open flame or torch
Hypothermia, or low body temperature, is a life-threatening condition which occurs when your body temperature gets too low. When you do not produce enough heat, your brain is unable to function at full speed, making it difficult to move and think. Do not ignore shivering, as it is one of the first signs of hypothermia. Take a break and give yourself a moment to warm up. Staying dry is an important step to avoiding hypothermia, as having wet/damp clothing in cold weather will drop your body temperature even quicker. The symptoms of hypothermia include slow, or slurred speech, memory loss, disorientation, uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness, and exhaustion. If you or someone you know is showing signs of hypothermia take their temperature and if it is below 95 degrees, immediately seek medical attention. If medical attention is not immediately available, begin warming them up slowly. Body core should be warmed first then arms and legs. Do not give victims of hypothermia alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverages.
Frostbite occurs when extremities freeze and are injured by the cold weather. While this can usually be prevented with protection such as gloves and warm shoes, it is important to not stay outside too long during extremely cold weather. If fingers or toes start to feel numb, look white/yellow, head indoors to warm up. Often, frostbite victims are unable to detect their symptoms due to numbness, so as an employer, monitor your employees for slower motor function or an inability to pick things up, etc., to help avoid frostbite injuries.
Signs of frostbite:
- Lack of feeling in the affected area
- Skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch or is discolored (flushed, white or gray, yellow or blue)
What to do for frostbite:
- Move the person to a warm place
- Handle the area gently; never rub the affected area
- Warm gently by soaking the affected area in warm water (100–105 degrees F) until it appears red and feels warm
- Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressings
- If the person’s fingers or toes are frostbitten, place dry, sterile gauze between them to keep them separated
- Avoid breaking any blisters
- Do not allow the affected area to refreeze
- Seek professional medical care as soon as possible
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you need to keep your workers safe this frigid season.