Do employees understand the Adverse Weather Policy if you have one and know when it goes into effect?

Safety on Ice

Do employees understand the Adverse Weather Policy if you have one and know when it goes into effect?

Winter is a time for hot soup, sitting by a fire, and playing in the snow, but it's also the season for slips and falls, treacherous roads, and the flu. Summer challenges us with the heat and spring the heavy rains, but the extremes of winter can make it the toughest season to safely navigate.

Most jobs don’t end when the weather gets harsh, so safety professionals must adapt to the set of circumstances presented and push forward. While the need for flexible thinking and problem solving in safety remain constant, winter’s unique challenges frequently require more creative resolutions.

Function Over Fashion
Are your employees dressed appropriately for the task at hand in the environment presented to them on any given day? Can they work both comfortably and safely? A cold and uncomfortable employee may be distracted or rush through a job to more quickly get back to a warm environment. This "get it over with" approach eventually leads to a mishap.

Does the employees' footwear help or is it likely to lead to an injury? Consider warmth, traction, materials, and the employee's role when deciding on this. Does the job entail indoor work or outdoor work? Are steel toes needed or will flip-flops be sufficient? Is the work surface hot or wet? Is much of the day spent sitting or standing? A lot goes into finding the appropriate shoe, and you may need to compromise. If your organization doesn't provide footwear, you may only be able to make insightful recommendations.

How important is dexterity when it comes to the job? Given the choice between gloves and mittens, mittens do a better job of keeping hands warm when it comes to extreme cold, but they certainly limit finger movement. A combination of fingerless gloves and jacket pockets should also be considered for intricate hand work.

Layering is a good solution to finding a peaceful medium ground among a group of employees. Having the ability to shed or don clothing as the environment changes or an employee’s body temperature shifts sure beats playing with a thermostat or listening to complaints about someone being too hot or too cold. Encourage layering, both indoors and outdoors.

Transportation Challenges
Getting around isn’t as easy with a few inches of snow on the ground, patches of black ice hidden on the pavement, or a sidewalk pelted with freezing rain. Cars and trucks are one thing, but even a dusting can lead to major headaches for forklifts, golf carts, or other modes of transportation at your facility that may not be intended for these elements. Have a plan for your vehicles when it gets slick--whether it's using sand and salt on cleared surfaces, winter tires for better traction, or taking modes of transportation out of service entirely.

What emergency supplies are in your vehicles should trouble arise? Impassable roads, dead batteries, flat tires, and accidents all leave people in a lurch, but with some basic preparation, the negative impact can be minimized. Jumper cables, reflective cone, flashlight, spare tire with working jack, leather work gloves, blanket, and a phone list will leave someone more prepared in case trouble arises. You hope an emergency kit is never needed, but just by having one you at least provide the operator with peace of mind.

Are your driveways and parking areas tended to by your facilities/maintenance staff, or is this responsibility contracted out? Who plows/shovels/salts after hours or on holidays? Do employees understand the Adverse Weather Policy if you have one and know when it goes into effect? Iron out these details in black and white, leaving no gray areas.

Raise awareness by preparing a safe winter driving email or flyer to point out the keys to getting around safely during the cold months. Even if you get only one person's attention, it is worth the time. Include points such as maintenance, speed, braking, following distance, and driving over bridges during the winter. All of us thinks we're decent drivers, but remind them of the basics anyway.

Slick Floors
Wet floor signs placed just inside an entry alert employees to the hazard as the elements tend to make their way indoors on sloppy days. Wet shoes and dripping umbrellas can quickly cause slippery conditions, especially when people are hurrying in from the cold, blurry-eyed with a cup of coffee in one hand and a briefcase in the other. Floor mats can help with this situation, but make sure your housekeeping staff stays on top of the puddles before someone ends up on their backside. If you do end up needing the temporary wet floor sign, make it just that--temporary. If you leave them up under safe conditions, the next time you break them out they are less likely to get noticed or be taken seriously.

Do Your Body A Favor … Stay Hydrated
Often associated only with the extreme heat of summer, dehydration also must be taken seriously during winter. An employee bundled up to keep the cold out is going to trap the heat in and perspire heavily during any extended physical exertion. Without proper fluid intake and rest breaks, the employee is being placed at risk. Any physical work should include regular breaks with the consumption of liquids.

Warding Off Winter Illnesses
Sickness is a greater concern in winter, so promote hand hygiene. Offer hand sanitizer at various locations throughout your facility and remind people to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. (The cost of the sanitizer is easily offset by the productivity gained from the sick days prevented.)

Every year, encourage your employee population to get a flu shot or provide the shots for them at no charge.

For those employees who still manage to get sick, encourage them to stay home and return to work when they won't share their illness with others. The bad apples in your bunch will take advantage of this approach, but they probably aren't your best employees anyway.

Tune In
Technology is your friend, so utilize it. Does anyone at your facility monitor a weather radio or get email alerts from the local news station when severe weather rears its head? Today's weather radios offer AM/FM listening while monitoring NOAA broadcasts in the background. Also, there are many smartphone apps allowing you to sign up and then receive up to-the-minute weather updates for your current location. If you have multiple facilities, designate a point person for monitoring the changing weather at each facility, especially if the facilities are in multiple geographic regions.

Tackle It Head On
Prepare. Act. Resolve. Meet the challenges of winter head on. Have a plan, and learn from last year's injury log. Talk to supervisors in different departments about their concerns. Speak with human resources about the sick/adverse weather/absentee policies. Have all of your ducks in a row so when Mother Nature throws her toughest challenges at you, you can take them in stride just like it's any other day at the office.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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