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December 18, 2013
Winter is here; Tips for keeping employees safe
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

With winter in full swing, OSHA is reminding employers to protect workers from cold stress, icy conditions, and other winter hazards.

Most injuries during winter storms—70 percent according to the National Weather Service—are a result of vehicle accidents, while 25 percent result from being caught out in a storm. To help prevent these injuries, OSHA urges businesses to anticipate the hazards their workers will be exposed to during a winter storm and plan accordingly to help them stay safe.

Preparing for winter storms

For employees whose work will require them to drive when there is a possibility of a winter storm, it’s important to be prepared. Vehicles should be inspected before use to make sure they’re in good working condition. Tires, oil, brakes, visibility systems, the engine, the cooling system, the exhaust system, and the electrical system should all be included in the inspection.

In addition, drivers should carry an emergency kit containing blankets, a cell phone or two-way radio, a windshield scraper and snow brush, a flashlight with extra batteries, a shovel, extra winter clothing, a tow chain, matches, traction aids such as a bag of sand or cat litter, emergency flares, jumper cables, snacks, water, and road maps.

Employers should also consider having winter storm supplies on their premises. Examples of important items to have on hand include food, water, blankets, a weather radio, flashlights and extra batteries, salt and sand or cat litter for deicing and traction, and snow shovels or a snowblower to clear walkways where employees must travel.

Working during a storm

If your employees will need to work outside during a winter storm, keep the following hazards in mind:

Frostbite and hypothermia. Both conditions are a result of extreme cold. Frostbite is severe, sometimes permanent damage to the deep layers of skin and tissue characterized by a loss of feeling and a waxy-white or pale appearance in the fingers, toes, nose, or earlobes. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95° Fahrenheit; symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion. Severe hypothermia can be fatal.

To prevent frostbite and hypothermia, workers should wear proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions. This typically consists of several layers, including a water-resistant outer layer, a hat, and gloves. In addition, workers should take frequent, short breaks in warm, dry shelters; drink warm, sweet beverages (avoiding those that contain caffeine or alcohol); and eat warm, high-calorie foods.

To help a person with possible frostbite or hypothermia, seek immediate medical assistance and warm the person slowly, starting with the trunk. Arms and legs should be warmed last. Put the person in dry clothing and wrap him or her in a blanket. Never give anything containing caffeine or alcohol to a person with hypothermia or frostbite.

Slips and falls. To avoid injuries, clear walking surfaces of snow and ice and use salt, sand, or other materials to melt ice and provide traction. If employees must walk on snow- and ice-covered surfaces, they should make sure to wear boots with good rubber treads to provide traction. Walking slowly and taking smaller steps also help to prevent slips and falls.

Snow removal hazards. Shoveling show can be physically taxing and can lead to exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, heart attacks, and other conditions. To reduce the risk of injury, workers should follow the following precautions:

  • Warm up before shoveling.
  • Push snow instead of lifting whenever possible.
  • Shovel small amounts of snow at a time.
  • When lifting snow, keep the back straight and lift with the legs.

If employees are using a snowblower to remove snow, lacerations and amputations can be a hazard. To avoid these injuries, workers should never attempt to clear a jammed machine by hand or while it is running; instead, they should turn the machine off, wait 5 seconds, and then use a long stick or other object to clear out wet snow or debris. In addition, workers should never add fuel to a snowblower while it is running or hot; fueling should be completed before operating the machine.

More information on winter storm safety is available at

Tips for safe winter driving First aid for hypothermia
7 risk factors for cold-related illnesses
Protective clothing for working in the cold
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