Winter Slips, Trips and Falls: Avoiding Injury and Incidents in the Workplace

Employers have a responsibility to take the right precautions and prepare their employees for any weather conditions.

Ensuring a safe work environment is an important action an employer must take to protect the safety of staff, management and consumers from injury and accidents. Winter months pose a unique challenge for employers, as inclement weather conditions can be unpredictable and swiftly create unsafe surroundings. According to SFM, the average winter slip and fall lost-time claim is between $40,000 and $45,000. Proactive employer preparedness is essential to prevent costs related to accidents, lost time from work and harmful legal actions.

Preventing Common Winter Workplace Hazards

Knowing the common winter weather-related hazards in the workplace can help an employer identify where an injury could potentially take place and prevent it from occurring.

Sidewalks, Streets and Floors. Un-shoveled sidewalks and streets can pose a serious threat to workers and others who enter the building or facility site. Sidewalks and streets should be salted after snowstorms and ice storms in order to improve walking traction and prevent falls. All snow, ice and debris should be removed from walkways or common areas before workers return to the workplace following any weather events. Employers should encourage their workers to walk slowly and pay attention while walking in order to maintain safety in slippery areas. Gutters should also be checked regularly and drained away from walkways in order to prevent slips. Lastly, mats should be placed in entryways to help reduce water being tracked indoors.

Stairs and Ladders. Even without winter weather, a fall from a stair step or a ladder is likely to cause injury. Factors like broken or nonexistent handrails or deteriorating steps can increase the risk of a slip or fall. Running, not using a handrail or walking on a wet ladder or stairs can also increase the risks of hazards.

Elevated Heights. Falls from elevated heights, such as snow-covered rooftops, can bring serious or fatal injuries. Employers in industries like construction should ensure that rooftops are cleared of snow, as they may conceal fall-through hazards like skylights, powerlines and snow removal equipment.

Visibility. During the winter months, the sun starts setting earlier and less natural light can create additional hazards. Employers should be conscious of lighting and ensure that all fixtures, both indoor and outdoor, are working properly. Parking lots should be lit up to avoid any potential incidents while workers are arriving to work in the morning or leaving in the evening. Additionally, employers should ensure that there is proper signage in all areas of potential hazards, including warning signs for wet floors and walkways. Signs should be placed in a clear, unobstructed location and should be easy to read.

Cold Stress and Exposure. Working in industries like construction or freezer storage can heighten the risks of slips and falls, as well as other injuries and illnesses. When someone is exposed to freezing temperatures for too long, he or she may suffer from permanent tissue damage, frostbite, hypothermia or even death.

How Can Employers Make a Plan to Mitigate Risks?

To set your workplace up for success, it is important that employers create a plan and strategies to mitigate harm from potential winter hazards, even before the weather starts to turn. As early as the summertime, employers should start taking note of the conditions of their work environments and make any repairs or fix any maintenance issues ahead of time. Employers should also ensure that their workplaces are in compliance with local, city and state rules and regulations.

In the case of sudden weather changes, employers should have a written plan outlining how they will react in case of freezing temperatures, snowstorms or periods of high winds. Managers should reduce the time workers are exposed to these conditions by rotating staff, planning outside work for warmer days or avoiding working outside altogether if possible.

It is not enough to only conduct one safety inspection per season. Employers should regularly take note of the conditions of working areas. For indoor workplaces, an employer should regularly check that flooring, electrical cords and appliances are up to safety standards and not impeding walkways or fire exits. Outdoor areas should also be regularly inspected, paying close attention to weather forecasts ahead of time. Most importantly, safety protocols should be reviewed on a regular basis, such as annually or semiannually, to maintain the most up-to-date safety standards. Managers can also designate an employee whose job it is to oversee that winter precautions are properly implemented. Ultimately, employers should regularly promote a culture of safety by exhibiting the outlined recommendations and reminding employees of standard safety tips and regulations—emphasizing that safety comes first—in order to prevent accidents both in the wintertime and throughout the year.

Snow Removal. Employers should make an effort to clear snow and ice from all surfaces, including sidewalks and streets, stairs and elevated surface. This process of clearing snow should expose the least number of workers to the affected area as possible. Salt should be put down in snowy areas and ice should be melted before employees return to work in the area. Employers should also make sure to check indoor areas regularly to ensure snow from outside is not brought in. Wet floor signs should be placed in these areas. The sturdiness of elevated surfaces and roofs should be checked before workers return. If workers must return to an area that is slippery, they should be given proper training and protective equipment.

Proper Training. Every worker should receive training on how to handle winter weather conditions and how to use any safety equipment. Employees should also be given training on how to best dress in the case of precipitation, winds or dropping temperatures.

Proper Equipment. Employees should be given equipment to handle any seasonal and non-seasonal working conditions. Safety equipment can include, but not limited to, attire such as:

● Non-slip winter boots

● Eyewear such as goggles

● Face masks and other PPE

● Reflective vests

● Hard hats

● Cold weather protection including hats, gloves, boots, coats and thermals

What Happens When an Accident Occurs?

First and foremost, an employer should immediately tend to any injuries and direct the employee to proper medical care. If injuries are mild, an employee should still receive an evaluation and maintain a record of the evaluation in case any physical issues arise at a later point.

An injured worker should immediately file an accident report with their employer following any necessary medical care and evaluation as well as a workers’ compensation claim. Workers who are injured on the job may be entitled to workers’ compensation whether or not they were injured as a result of an accident that was their fault or the fault of their employer.

If an injury occurs as the result of a third party outside of an employer, an injured worker may seek to recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit allows the victim of an injury to receive compensation for costs related to lost wages, medical bills, reduced earning potential, physical or mental pain and suffering, lost quality of life and other emotional damages. It is advised that injured workers seeking to file a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent party seek the guidance of a personal injury lawyer who is experienced in representing clients in their specific type of case.

Winter workplace slips, trips and falls can be dangerous, costly and fatal at worst. The good thing is that most of the time, these types of workplace accidents are entirely preventable. Employers have a responsibility to take the right precautions and prepare their employees for any weather conditions. Making a plan that takes into account the common risks can help prevent a slip or fall from occurring in the first place. However, if and when an accident happens, it is important that workers know their legal rights for recovering damages relating to their injuries through a workers’ compensation claim. For injuries caused by a third party’s negligence, an injured worker may recover damages through a personal injury lawsuit.

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