Prepare Now to Eliminate Fall Hazards This Winter
People living in cold-weather climates can take winter hazards for granted, but this can make it easier to overlook or dismiss hazards that can be easily eliminated before the temperature drops.
- By Karen D. Hamel
- Nov 01, 2017
Ice and snow aren't the only things that increase the likelihood of slip and fall injuries during the winter months. Identifying walking surface imperfections and preparing for winter hazards now can eliminate or reduce the chance of slip and fall incidents this winter.
Slips, trips, and falls to the same level continue to be one of the leading causes of lost work time injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, they are far more common in winter months. Being prepared involves more having than having a shovel and a bag of rock salt. Eliminating hazards before winter hits and having a plan to keep snow and ice in check will help reduce slip and fall risks.
Some winter hazards like snow and ice are obvious things to plan for. But other hazards may not be as noticeable in the summer or fall. For example, shorter days and longer nights during winter months reduce visibility, making walking surface hazards harder to see in early morning and evening hours if there is insufficient lighting.
Cracks in sidewalks, uneven walking surfaces and potholes that may seem minor during the summer can become more exasperated by cold weather and freeze/thaw cycles. Shrubs, bushes or other landscaping that migrates into walkways makes it more difficult to keep those areas clear of snow and ice in the winter.
Moving indoors, when people enter the building with snow on their feet, it quickly melts. This can make building lobbies, employee entrances and shipping docks more hazardous. Garages and other areas where buildings and grounds crews store shovels, compact utility vehicles, tractors, snow blowers and other motorized snow removal equipment may also become more prone to slippery puddles from melted snow that is tracked in with equipment if there is not adequate drainage in the area.
People who live in cold-weather climates can take winter hazards for granted because they know to expect snow and ice in the winter. But this can make it easier to overlook or dismiss hazards that can be easily eliminated before the temperature drops; or to minimize the importance of removing snow and ice promptly. Reviewing incident and near miss reports and walking around the facility can help uncover hazards that may otherwise be overlooked.
In November 2015, OSHA revised the walking-working surfaces rule. Under this rule, employers must maintain walking-working surfaces and keep them free of hazards such as snow and ice. Access and egress routes, including sidewalks and parking lots, also must be kept safe (29 CFR 1910.22).
Part of maintaining safe walking surfaces includes keeping them in good repair and correcting any hazard that is found. In fact, when a hazard, such as a deep crack, pothole, or uneven surface is discovered, it must be corrected before the surface is used again. If it can’t be corrected immediately, it must be guarded to prevent anyone from using it until the repair is made [29 CFR 1910.22(d)].
Most of these minor repairs can be done inexpensively, before winter strikes. As parking lots, sidewalks and other outdoor areas are being evaluated to determine whether repairs are needed, also consider stairs and handrails that also may need attention.
In the autumn, check storm drains and clear out leaves, dirt, and other debris that could clog the drains and cause them to back up. Verify that parking lot and other perimeter lighting is functional and adequate—because bulbs and lamps are easier to change when the ground is clear and dry.
Create and Review Plans
For each hazard that has been identified, winter safety plans should detail the procedures that will be implemented to prevent injuries. Review winter duties with maintenance staff and ensure that they have enough manpower to perform the tasks that will need to be accomplished. Consider allowing them to vary their schedules to meet needs and minimize overtime.
Many facilities use outside vendors for snow removal. Where this is the case, discuss expectations with them each autumn. Verify in writing that snow will be removed from parking lots and sidewalks and that all areas will be treated to prevent ice patches prior to the time that employees arrive and before they leave each day.
Even if it snows every winter and people know that they will need shovels and ice melt, they tend to put off buying those items until the first big snowfall. Then, it is often too late to find needed supplies or to purchase enough to make it through the storm, let alone the whole season.
Purchasing ice melt and other supplies before it starts to snow helps to avoid that hassle and better ensure that outdoor areas can be properly treated to prevent slips and falls. Consider areas throughout the facility where small amounts of ice melt can be stored so that it is ready for everyone to use, such as entranceways, dock doors and outdoor smoking areas.
Tune up snow blowers, utility vehicles, and other powered snow removal equipment so that it is ready for the season. Check and maintain fuel supplies and maintain stock on commonly-replaced parts so that equipment can be kept running all season.
Keep barricade tape, cones, or other barrier devices handy to mark areas that can't be cleared of snow, ice or other hazards. These items may be needed indoors or out. They are also useful for designating walkways that have been cleared to help everyone safely navigate between buildings or through parking lots.
Because building entrances are notorious locations for slip-and-fall injuries, be prepared to keep them dry with floor fans and other supplies. Adhesive-backed absorbent matting can be used to quickly trap snow that enters on shoes and boots. It can also replace traditional entrance matting when it becomes saturated with snow.
Warm summer months and balmy autumn days can cause people to let down their guard and forget about winter safety. Use toolbox talks, posters, or portions of safety training time to review winter safety protocols with all employees before the first snowfall.
If employees regularly work outdoors, distribute traction footwear and other winter gear. Allow time for them to acclimate to cold weather and provide methods for them to warm themselves after performing outdoor tasks.
Show everyone where designated walkways will be and discuss plans to keep them clear. Post signage to remind everyone of slip and fall hazards. Review how to get out of a vehicle safely, how to walk on slippery surfaces, and what types of footwear to avoid. Stress the importance of walking slowly and avoiding carrying things that obstruct vision or alter balance.
Slip and fall hazards don't need to be one of the necessary evils of winter. Identifying and eliminating common causes and having a plan to keep areas as clean and dry as possible will minimize the chance of these injuries.
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.