Keeping Workers Safe in Winter

Source: Vadim Ratnikov - 123RF

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the best time to brush up on your winter weather safety is now, when winter weather hasn’t fully set in.

Winter weather presents hazards including slippery roads/surfaces, strong winds, and environmental cold.

The NWS offers information on Sneaky Winter Hazards and tips to help you deal with them.

According to OSHA, employers must prevent illnesses, injuries, or fatalities, by controlling these hazards in workplaces impacted by winter weather.

OSHA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working together on a public education effort aimed at improving the way people prepare for and respond to severe weather.

This is designed to help businesses and their workers prepare for winter weather, and to provide information about hazards that workers may face during and after winter storms.

While slips, trips, and falls are common day-to-day workplace occurrences, winter weather presents particularly hazardous conditions.

To prevent slips, trips, and falls, employers should clear snow and ice from walking surfaces, and spread de-icer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm.

When walking on snow or ice is unavoidable workers should be trained to:

  • Wear footwear that has good traction and insulation (e.g. insulated and water-resistant boots or rubber over-shoes with good rubber treads); and
  • Take short steps and walk at a slower pace to react quickly to changes in traction.

Employers should consider options to avoid working on roofs or elevated heights, plan ahead for safe snow removal, and must:

  • Provide required fall protection and training when working on the roof or elevated heights;
  • Ensure ladders are used safely (e.g. clearing snow and ice from surfaces);
  • Use extreme caution when working near power lines; and
  • Prevent harmful exposure to cold temperatures and physical exertion.

Outdoor work requires proper preparation, especially in severe winter weather conditions.

Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, employers have a responsibility to provide workers with employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards, including winter weather-related hazards, which are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to them (Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970).

Employers should, therefore, train workers on the hazards of the job and safety measures to use, such as engineering controls and safe work practices, that will protect workers’ safety and health.