The temperatures are cooling down while daylight hours are slowly slipping away into the dark, cold night. Winter is here and for many, it symbolizes the start of the holiday season — full of cheer and goodwill towards men and women.
For industrial workers however, the colder weather means increased hazards at work. Cold-related illnesses, exposure to the elements and increased risk of slip and falls on icy terrain make otherwise mundane chores a feat of strength and agility.
Are you looking for a way to improve safety and health on the job site this season? Want to reduce the number of sick days and recordable injuries your crew experiences? Check out our helpful tips below:
Dangerous Cold Weather Hazards and the Gear You Need to Protect
Hazard: Hypothermia & Frostbite
Solution: Some of the most dangerous cold-related illnesses that can impact worker safety are hypothermia and frostbite. If your job site and work conditions are so cold that your employees risk frozen skin and tissues or risk losing critical body heat, the cold weather clothing they need must be specifically designed to protect them against these hazards.
Cold weather apparel like jackets, sweatshirts, jacket liners, hand protection, vests and accessories like full coverage balaclavas are a good place to start. Not only are they great options for staying warm, but they are designed for workability.
The average sweatshirt and jacket from a worker’s closet may seem like a good alternative, but can quickly become heavy and cumbersome, reducing productivity and safety. Let’s face it. How long do you expect your employees to wear heavy and uncomfortable jackets and gear before it gets tossed in the truck? Cold weather apparel should not only keep a person warm, it should be comfortable enough to wear all day.
Hazard: Loss of Body Heat
Solution: Curious about the science behind how we lose body heat? Let’s talk about some of the most common ways it can happen and how to prevent it.
One way is through evaporation. When you exert physical energy and your body temperature rises higher than 99°F, you will begin to lose body heat and sweat. People often forget that this can happen even when it’s cold outside.
This becomes even more dangerous in wet conditions. That’s why moisture wicking clothing is important for worker safety, even in the winter. Wet socks, clothing or gloves do nothing to protect against cold weather, in fact it can increase the risk of cold-related illness.
Another way we lose body heat is through conduction and convection. When your body comes into contact with cold air and wind chill (convection) or a cold surface (conduction), you lose body heat. That’s why it’s so important to insulate yourself with warm socks, gloves, head protection and quality shoes. Hand warmers, foot warmers and even toe warmers are another helpful addition to your cold weather safety program.
➤ For more information on choosing the best winter workwear, read How to Choose Winter Workwear That Actually Protects.
Hazard: Downed Power Lines
Solution: Rain, sleet and snow can create more than just a few hazards. Not only can it increase a worker’s chance of experiencing a cold-related illness, it can lead to some downright dangerous work conditions. Heavy accumulation of snow and ice can lead to downed power lines.
We’ve all seen utility workers grind around the clock to restore electricity to homes and businesses, but anyone who is working near downed power lines are at risk as well. And the solution for this hazard isn’t a simple one.
First, you must thoroughly train your workers on the dangers of coming in contact with energized power lines. That means assuming all downed lines are live and workers should stay clear of them because downed power lines can energize the ground up to 35 feet away.
But if your crew must work in the area, they should have insulating personal protective equipment like flame-resistant clothing, insulated shoes, sleeves and gloves. They should also know the full limitations of their gear.
➤ Click and share this helpful infographic about downed power lines with your team.
Hazard: Poor Visibility
Solution: Winter weather conditions like fog, high winds, limited sunlight, snow and rain can decrease visibility, putting workers at increased danger of being struck by heavy equipment or oncoming traffic.
Employees who work outside in these conditions should wear cold weather gear that offers high visibility and reflective protection. High visibility clothing and accessories are available in a variety of options including parkas, vests, coveralls, beanies, gloves and more.
Hazard: Slips and Falls
Solution: Slippery walkways from ice, sleet, rain and snow create dangerous situations for workers, whether they work indoors or out. The first thing that employers need to do is maintain ground conditions by keeping parking lots, roadways and pathways plowed and clear.
Then, use salt and sand to improve traction for pedestrians and vehicles. Finally, ice melt products can be used to prevent build-up of ice on walking surfaces. Don’t forget to clear building entrances and exits and always keep floors clean and dry.
Other solutions include footwear specially designed for slippery surfaces. For added traction, consider using slip-on ice grips that can be used over work boots. But use caution; those ice grips can actually cause a fall if used on metal surfaces like loading docks, ramps or even mobile equipment.
Create a Safer and Healthier Workplace
Sometimes, protecting workers from winter hazards is as simple as keeping a clean and healthy work environment.
It’s no secret that cold weather combined with grueling work can put your body and your immune system under stress, making it more susceptible to cold and flu season. So, keep common areas like bathrooms and break rooms clean and sanitary and provide your crew with hand sanitizer if they can’t get to a washroom.
Employees often feel under the gun to show up to work even when they are seriously ill. Rather than spreading germs around, create an absentee policy that doesn’t punish workers when they are sick. The last thing you need is your entire crew down for the count because someone didn’t want to call in sick and risk getting in trouble.
How Can We Help?
If you’d like more information on how to get your workplace winter ready, stop in to Rocky Mountain Industrial Supply, visit our website or give us a call at 307-472-5519. We’d love to help get you and your team in the gear they need to work safely.
We’re here to help keep the American workforce safe everyday.