Watch your step: Winter workplace accidents can become all-too plentiful once it gets icier and colder. Here’s what to look out for.
Winter weather promotes various hazards, including slippery roads and surfaces, unusually strong winds and extremely cold temperatures. These conditions may result in an increase in workplace accidents, so it’s important to raise awareness throughout your organization about the types of hazards that may occur and their effects. By educating yourself and your staff, you can help keep everyone safe this winter.
The Impact of Winter Weather Hazards
While it may not seem like winter weather could have a major impact on your business, the statistics tell another story. According to the most recent Center for Disease Control (CDC) data, a total of 16,911 deaths in the United States were associated with exposure to extreme temperatures. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine (AJEM) adds that an average of 11,500 people are treated in emergency rooms for snow removal-related accidents every year. This AJEM study further reports that approximately 54 percent of the injuries are due to acute musculoskeletal exertion, 20 percent are due to slips and falls, 15 percent are attributed to snow shovel contact and 6.7 percent are cardiac illness-related. Being aware of these types of injuries can help you better prepare your employees, especially if they will be performing tasks in inclement weather.
Even if the majority of your staff works inside, it’s important to note how winter weather can impact their commute and their safety. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports that frozen precipitation or weather-related conditions account for 20 percent of injury-causing motor vehicle accidents and 17 percent of truck and vehicle accidents. FHA confirms that, “Weather acts through visibility impairments, precipitation, high winds, and temperature extremes to affect driver capabilities, vehicle performance (i.e., traction, stability and maneuverability), pavement friction, roadway infrastructure, crash risk, and traffic flow.” While you can’t anticipate or control the weather conditions, you can make workers aware of potential hazards and promote safe driving behavior.
Common Workplace Accidents
OSHA advises that outdoor work should always require proper preparation, especially in severe winter weather conditions. An important part of being prepared is educating yourself and your workers on how the winter weather can affect them and their safety. Here are some common hazards to be aware of:
- Slips on walking surfaces, such as sidewalks, parking lots and wet interior surfaces created by tracking snow and ice
- Falls when removing snow and ice from rooftops and working at heights
- Accidents caused by poor winter driving conditions
- Workers being struck by vehicles and other mobile equipment when drivers lose control, which leads to work zone fatalities or injuries
- Cold stress from frostbite or hypothermia through extended exposure to the severe cold weather
- Injuries caused by snow removal activities
- Lacerations or amputations and electric shock from the use of power equipment, such as snow blowers
- Electrocution through contact with downed energized power lines, or contact with objects, such as dislodged tree limbs
- Burns from fires caused by repairing a damaged energized line or equipment failure
- Being struck by falling trees or limbs, collapsing telephone poles or overburdened roof structures
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that addresses working in cold weather or environments, the agency does ask that employers provide its employees “with employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards.” The agency further suggests that employers train workers on the recognition of job hazards and the safety measures they should undertake to protect their safety and health.
Winter can be a dangerous time of the year if you’re not aware of the potential hazards that may arise. Educating your employees on the most common workplace accidents will help prepare them for winter’s greatest challenges. By driving awareness about any workplace hazards that are enhanced or created by winter weather, you may be able to prevent illnesses, injuries or fatalities within your organization.