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Winter Is Coming: Six Cold Weather Safety Tips
Staying Alive: Top safety recommendations for preparing for winter conditions and cold weather challenges.
By Rick LeBlanc
Date Posted: 9/1/2016
Top safety recommendations for preparing for winter conditions and cold weather challenges.
The year was 1977 and “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees was big.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly a fan of that song, nor was I keen on being shivering cold for hours on end. It has been almost 40 years since I worked as a young employee at a lumber remanu-facturing plant, and I did manage to stay alive, in spite of knowing very little about how to work safely in winter.
There was the seeming cardiac arrest of snow funneling down my neck from snow laden bundles as I raised them with the forklift and tilted them back. Then there was the sledgehammer. We used it to loosen frozen lumber so we could feed it into the resaw. There were a few times I didn’t get my freezing and soon to be blackened fingers clear of the hammer blow in time. To this day my fingers tingle when I think back.
Finally, one dark January evening I caught a sagging electrical wire with the top of my forklift mast while over a sizeable puddle of water and I thought for sure I was going to get electrocuted. It was about that time I started to think about a career change.
The good news is the safety programs of today’s wood products facilities are much more proactive than they were during the time of Saturday Night Fever. And so they should be.
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, it states that employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards, including winter weather related hazards, which are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to them. Here are some ideas towards preparing your facility for safe winter operations.
Utilize a winter safety checklist as part of your safety program. While facilities will employ a monthly facility safety inspection checklist as part of their year around site safety program, it may be useful to create one specific to preparing for and getting through the winter season. Such a list might include the confirmation of snow clearing service provisions and adequate supplies of salt and sand. It could also include facility considerations such as checking roof and drains, sidewalk, stair and parking lot condition, readiness of fire suppression equipment, as well as other points listed below in this article. For an example of such a checklist, follow this link (http://tinyurl.com/ztl5gf3).
Identify key employees. A best practice is to establish key employees to champion various aspects of winter safety, such as monitoring for extreme weather conditions. Heightened awareness is critical to ensure that any bad weather plant closures are communicated early enough that employees are not already exposed to hazardous conditions on their way to work, and that if bad weather brews during the shift, that work stops in time to allow employees to safely return home. You might want to also designate specific staff members to address needs such as emergency snow removal and salting. At a distribution center where I was the health and safety professional for several years, we arranged for certain employees to start their shifts early on snowy mornings to help remove snow before workers arrived at the regular time. If snow started building up during the night, the security guard would give them a phone call in the early morning.
Provide winter training. As colder weather approaches each year, precautions should be reviewed with the crew. While the risks that face plants will vary, common cold weather hazards include slip and fall injuries, cold stress (hypothermia and frostbite), and increased driving risks. Also keep in mind the need to review safe work procedures with operators of seasonal equipment such as snow ploughs or snow blowers.
You may find it effective to have internal experts share their experiences during training. For example, this could include professional drivers to talk about winter driving best practices with the production team, or a first aid attendant or other person with direct experience to talk about what can go wrong if loosely fitting winter clothing gets caught in operating equipment.
Use a signoff sheet at your crew meeting to capture a record of all employees who were trained. Be sure to catch any absent employees or subsequent new hires at a separate session. Sidebar 1 on page 50 contains links to some sample crew talks and signoff sheets.
Operate mobile equipment to conditions. When cold weather strikes, lift truck operators and their supervisors should be mindful of additional risks, such as icy or wet loading docks and ramps, poor visibility, and icy loads. Driving safely to conditions is a priority. Unfortunately, when operators are in discomfort due to being cold or wet, they can be in a hurry to get the work done and get back into a warm plant. Make sure that your operators understand the importance of wearing adequate gear - so that they can comfortably operate mobile equipment in a safe manner.
Longer term, look to replace forklifts with models that provide better protection from the elements. Pedestrians working around forklifts should give mobile equipment a wider berth to allow for longer stopping distances.
And when mounting or dismounting, vehicle operators should always maintain three points of contact (two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot). This procedure becomes of heightened importance when dealing with slippery footing.
Dress safely for winter. Dressing in layers is the recommended approach for winter, which allows workers to adjust to the temperature. A lightweight bottom layer, insulative middle layer, and a waterproof and wind resistant, yet breathable top layer should provide the flexibility to offer comfort in a variety of temperatures. Be mindful of loosely fitting clothing at any time, but more commonly in winter, which can get caught in machinery or snag on a handle when an employee is stepping out of a truck or dismounting a forklift, resulting in a fall.
One key is to stay dry, as water conducts heat away from the body 25 times more quickly than air. Wetness can result from precipitation, as well as from perspiration. A wicking bottom layer will help keep you dry and warm. If you’ve worn a cotton t-shirt under a raincoat, you are probably familiar with feeling wet, even though no rain has penetrated. Cotton holds onto perspiration. Instead, look to fabrics such as wool, polypropylene and polyester fleece. And as for the old wisdom that people lose 80% of body heat through the head – that’s simply not true! But the head does account for 10% of the body’s surface area and results in proportional heat loss, as would any other exposed part of the body, so wear a hat when appropriate.
Prevent slips and falls. Slips and falls are an issue year around, but the onset of winter conditions heightens the risk. Address the issue by organizing a robust snow removal program before bad weather hits to address key areas such as clearing roadways and sidewalks, as well as sanding or salting. Shovels should be stored in a readily accessible location so that if the designated employee is not available, others can respond. Watch for snow melting from forklifts parked indoors, or for snow brought inside on bundles of material or at man doors. Be mindful of treacherous spots, and encourage team members to report such hazards. Use pylons or other means to signal the icy spots.
Encourage the use of footwear with an appropriate bottom grip. The use of a “duck walk” can help – short steps when walking on slippery surfaces to help maintain balance on ice or ramps. Make sure to use the handrail when navigating stairs.
The bottom line remains that winter is coming, and your preparation for such seasonal risks should be incorporated into your safety program. Plan for the predictable, and reinforce a safety culture that is alert and responsive to risks as they emerge.
Managing Cold Stress
Preventing slips, trips and falls