Ice and snow buildup in parking lots and on walkways can be hazardous to employees, delivery people, and guests.

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Winter Hazards in Manufacturing

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) general regulations mandate that every employer must provide a safe and secure workplace for its employees. Most manufacturing organizations do an excellent job of removing hazards from the work environment, but nonetheless, OSHA issued more than 2,500 citations from October 2012 through September 2013. Some citations occur because manufacturers miss hazards caused by the change in seasons. Winter is especially problematic because it brings inherent hazards of its own that create complications in the production areas.

Driving During Delivery and Pickups
Many manufacturers make regular pickups from suppliers or drop products at customer sites using company-owned vehicles, which must be equipped with the right safety equipment for weather conditions. Manufacturers should be sure that company vehicles have snow tires with adequate tread and that they inspect and replace windshield wipers regularly. Fluid levels, particularly de-icing windshield washer fluid, should be checked weekly and always before and after storms.

It's a good idea to put vehicles through a tune-up or preventive maintenance check at the start of winter to be sure that brakes, batteries, and other key systems are in tip-top form. There should be a first aid kit, drinking water, and a Mylar blanket in each company vehicle.

Icy Parking Lots and Walkways
Ice and snow buildup in parking lots and on walkways can be hazardous to employees, delivery people and guests. Make sure your maintenance team is ready to keep these areas clear so employees can reach their workstations easily. Always have salt or ice melt on hand to melt ice and keep it from refreezing.

Slick Floors: Slips and Falls
When employees enter the plant from outside, they may track ice, snow, and mud that make floors dangerously slippery. Be sure you have absorbent mats at the entrance to the plant to catch drips.

You might also want to consider adding mudrooms or entry rooms between the outside and the manufacturing plant to provide a buffer. It's a nice touch to provide benches where employees can sit to remove wet boots and change to work shoes. Add cubbies or lockers for shoe storage during the shift.

Dry winter weather creates static that can wreak havoc with delicate equipment or components. Keep the temperature and humidity in the plant at comfortable levels to reduce the issue and provide grounding straps to employees who work in this type of environment. You should also provide education on when and why employees should make sure of proper ground. High-quality insulated cables and wires can help to protect equipment from damage due to static.

Loading Docks
Loading and shipping docks are typically open to the weather for a good portion of the day. Metal gates and outside steps can get wet and slippery easily, especially on busy days or after storms when snow and ice may melt and refreeze frequently. Provide nonslip mats wherever it’s feasible and make sure employees wear sturdy shoes to prevent falls.

The temperature on the docks can vary greatly during the day, so provide blast heaters to help keep the space warm. Without supplementary heat, employees working in areas open to the cold may be susceptible to frostbite on noses, ears, and fingers. Providing properly installed heat sources that can keep up with low temperatures is essential. Otherwise, employees may resort to using personal space heaters, which can be unsafe due to fire or electrical hazards even without the presence of corrugated boxes or damp conditions.

Communication During Hazardous Weather
Winter storms create hazardous conditions, and it’s important to keep employees safe. Yet some manufacturing equipment and processes, such as foundries, biologicals, and food processing, must continue on a specific schedule to prevent quality issues, scrap, or lost production. The best way to handle winter storm closings is to have a specific person and a backup who make the decision to close the plant. Management should let employees know about plant closing decisions on the company’s website or through mass emails, text messages, or phone calls early enough so employees aren’t already on their way to work. Likewise, management should announce early closings before mass transportation shuts down or driving conditions become too hazardous for workers to attempt the journey home.

Management also should designate essential personnel in advance so people don't have to wonder whether they are essential or non-essential when management makes the infamous "all non-essential personnel should stay home" announcement. The company's policy on pay for snow days and storm closings should be clearly spelled out in advance so employees can make informed decisions during adverse weather.

Electrical Shocks
Melting snow from shoes and boots create standing pools of water that can be a shock hazard for improperly grounded equipment or for employees plugging in hand tools, lights, space heaters, or other devices. Make sure that your maintenance team is on the lookout for standing water and educate employees about the hazards of electricity and water.

One way to avoid issues from electrical hazards and shocks is to ensure that you use industrial wire and cable rated for damp conditions and to specify high-quality industrial cable and wire whenever you purchase new equipment or add new wiring to your manufacturing facility.

Dirt and Contamination
Salt and sand are important tools to prevent falls and keep open spaces clear and free of ice and snow, but they stick to shoes and boots. Workers track these contaminants into the factory when they enter unless you provide doormats or a convenient space to change from outdoor to indoor footwear. These tiny particles can pose a hazard to delicate equipment or even can contaminate your products.

Keep factory areas clean by sweeping frequently or cleaning floors more often, and provide shoe covers if your product needs to be very sanitary or unpolluted. Follow the advice for dealing with slick floors because the same measures will cut down on dirt and contamination.

Bulky Clothing
In winter, people tend to wear long sleeves and to dress in layers of bulkier clothing. Bulky clothing may make it harder to operate equipment--it can easily catch on handles, switches, or levers--so it's important to ensure you have proper safeguards on every piece of machinery.

Even though your factory may have cavernous ceilings and metal walls, it's important to keep it heated to comfortable temperatures to minimize the need for workers to wear extra layers of clothing. As with loading docks, keeping the facility at a comfortable temperature helps to minimize the temptation to use personal space heaters, which are very hazardous. Not only do they create potential fire hazards, but also people often trip over cords strung along floors or the heaters block aisles and spaces between machines, impeding production and material movement.

Many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, which makes them sluggish, sleepy, and depressed. SAD occurs because of low levels of sunlight during the winter, and it can be quite dangerous. Many people with SAD become accident prone, fall asleep suddenly, or even attempt suicide. To help prevent complications from SAD, it helps to have windows in your manufacturing facility to let natural light stream in. At the very least, try to ensure that common areas, cafeterias, and break rooms have plenty of natural light. Also, try to have an outdoor area available for breaks for those workers who need to see the sun to feel healthy.

Manufacturing can be hazardous at the best of times, but winter has special challenges. Watch for these areas of concern and your plant safety record will be intact come spring.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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