As one of the worst winter storms in history hits the majority of the U.S. this week, it is a reminder that even though Punxstawney Phil is predicting an early Spring for 2011, winter weather is still going to be a major issue for most of us for a while.
As a business owner, the winter weather may create thoughts of contingency planning, increasing routes to make up for down time, increased expenses and loss of revenues. Workplace injuries should also be one of the things that should be considered and identified. According to the National Weather Service, about 70% of the injuries during winter storms result from vehicle accidents, and about 25% of injuries result from being caught out in the storm. Here are a few of the other injuries that can affect you, your employees and your customers.
1. Slips & Falls - During the winter months when the sidewalks are covered in rain, sleet, snow and ice, there is an increased risk for slips/trips/falls both outdoors and indoors when weather is tracked in.
- Remove snow from all walkways in and around the building. Use salt and sand.
- Watch for thawing and refreezing conditions. Second and third applications of sand or salt may be needed on walkways.
- Put mats and rugs inside entryways - wet floors from snow tracked indoors can be a hazard.
- Be sure to use cones and other warning devices to help employees and customers identify wet/slippery areas.
2. Hypothermia & Frost Bite - Are your employees spending time outdoors? Keep in mind that hypothermia can even occur indoors where there are cool temperatures, such as a cooler/freezer, an unheated warehouse, etc. What about protecting your drivers if they get stranded in their vehicle?
- CDC Winter Weather Exposure Guide
- NIOSH: Cold Stress
- CDC Cold Weather Prevention Guide
- What to do if your stuck in your vehicle
3. Dehydration - Did you know that your body works harder to keep warm than it does to keep you cool? The warming process along with breathing in drier air can lead to dehydration.
4. Back Injuries & Heart Attacks - The majority of all winter back injuries and heart attacks occur while shoveling snow. Use the safety tips referenced below to help avoid these injuries or consider using a snow blower. (But please be sure to reference our next injury before starting the snow blower!)
5. Amputations & Lacerations - Unfortunately, there is generally an increase in the number of amputations and finger lacerations during the winter months with the popularity of snow blowers. These injuries tend to occur when people use their hands to clear a clogged auger.
What are you doing to protect your employees from injuries during the cold weather? Is there a way for some of your employees to work from home when roads are bad? We'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions!
Lisa Mundt is a Senior Risk Control Representative for Westfield Insurance, a regional insurance company based in Northeast Ohio and operating in 18 states. Lisa is based out of our Atlanta, Georgia office.