Winter is Coming and Bringing Workplace Hazards—Are You Ready?
Add in two backups in case of a widespread disaster. Many companies have an emergency call back, but if there is widespread power or cell outage due to winter events, what is the backup?
It was a long brutally hot summer—and the crisp change toward winter is welcomed by many. As the pleasantly dipping temperatures head to the "brrrrr" stage, as Safety, are you preparing your facility and workers (and management) for the different hazards associated with the colder weather? Have you planned ahead well?
Cooler temperatures bring along unique hazards, as well as those we see regularly. Slip-and-fall injuries rise dramatically, falls from elevations such as ice-glazed steps can see workers' compensation costs skyrocket with one bad storm. Snow removal from roofs or iced-over vents are certainly non-routine activities. Make a list of such potentials and discuss with your crew; you want the most fit and alert ready for each job before the need. If you anticipate special equipment needs, go ahead and set up the contacts now so that everyone knows their role.
- Awareness. It seems simple, but reminding employees about the season’s changing hazards can help. Include company expectations and how their not showing up impacts the team effort. Make sure those who are "mission critical" know this and fully understand their responsibility to come in if possible. Tell them when really hazardous weather events are expected and alter your company work hours if needed. Review your policies and update supervisors on them. Make sure you have a backup list for temps or other contractors if needed for a 24/7 operation.
- Diversity. If your workforce is multi-cultural and multilingual, make sure to show and tell in addition to printed materials. I have more than once had to explain/show what an ice scraper was used for on iced-over vehicles and how/when to use it for staff hired from tropical or desert countries. You may have to explain in detail over and over cold hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning, using candles/open flames, not to use space heaters, grills used inside, how to walk on ice-slick sidewalks if you can't get them cleared, etc. Handouts with pictures often help, too. In this case, safety is extended to homes because you need your workforce safe and back at work.
- Consider your workforce and what you produce. If the power is out, can you work? Is your primary workforce local? Or are they mostly young parents with children who will be out of school, requiring their care? Think back . . . what was the absenteeism rate for the last snow or ice storm? In some parts of the country, 4 inches of snow is not even a pause to everyday life; for others, though, it is a catastrophic event that closes everything for days because of downed power lines. Many cannot drive in such situations and will not venture out until it is clear. How do they dress? In high-heeled dress boots which are often made with slippery leather soles? Or do you have a more fragile workforce with an elderly population that are fearful to venture out. Each group has special needs you have to address.
- Timing for cold weather activities is important, too. I have worked in two places where the maintenance staff distributed sand/ice melt by 9 a.m. each day, but many staffers came in at 7 a.m. (As Safety, explaining the situation was not nearly as effective as the workers' comp bills for one broken wrist.) I volunteered at one workplace to come in early and distribute sand to the front and side doorways myself—it saved me more injury paperwork to manage. Management originally did not want to pay the $12 for sand. By the second winter storm, and thousands of dollars from falls, they were more eager to be proactive.
- Budget. Plan ahead for those employees who require cold weather gear such as gloves, hats, liners, glare protection, coats, etc. Then add extra to it for real crisis situations that may need heavy machinery to place employees on the roof or for clearing parking lots. Make sure you consider well ahead those winter weather safety needs and budget/order them long before needed. It may include food...