The summer season is winding down, and as colder temperatures move in, workers face exposure to cold-related safety hazards.
Certain workers may be more susceptible to these sorts of hazards–such as those working outdoors and without shelter, those working indoors with poor insulation or no heat, and those working in geographical regions where temperatures dip into below-freezing digits.
However, other factors can contribute to cold-related hazard risks, such as increased wind speeds and moisture. Cold affects the body primarily by lowering the core body temperature. When someone is exposed to low temperatures for a prolonged period, the body’s stored energy will gradually deplete and result in a condition known as “hypothermia.”
This is a very dangerous illness, made worse by the fact that low body temperatures can adversely affect the brain.
Workers who cannot think clearly may not be aware of their condition, making them unable to recognize or properly respond to the onset of hypothermia. Water and moisture are major contributors to this condition because water removes heat from the body 25 times faster than air, and can quickly lead to hypothermia.
Hypothermia can occur from immersion in water with temperatures as high as 21°C, putting those performing work in even relatively temperate climates at risk. Moisture is also responsible for “trench foot,” which occurs when the feet are exposed to wet, cold conditions for long periods.
Other common cold-stress injuries include frostbite and chilblains. Chilblains can occur (based on moisture and wind conditions) at temperatures as high as 15.5°C. Frostbite can cause freezing damage so severe, it may lead to amputation.
In order to address cold-stress injuries in the workplace, employers need to create a thorough prevention program that includes training on risks, prevention, symptoms, monitoring, treatment and proper use of tools (such as access to warm liquids, warm rest areas, first aid kits, and personal protective equipment, including selection of work clothing). The best time to ensure your cold-stress prevention standard meets the needs of your employees is now. Safety Services Company can help design a program specifically tailored to your business.
Every year workers are killed or seriously injured while performing snow or ice removal from the rooftops of commercial, residential, and other building structures. Snow removal operations are often performed under extreme weather conditions by workers who may have little experience or training on the hazards of the job which is why having a safety manual can become very important.
Snow removal may be necessary to prevent overloading and collapse or for construction or repair of decking or roofs. Workers often climb directly onto the roofs or structures and use shovels, snow rakes, or snow blowers to remove ice and snow. Other times these operations are done from aerial lifts used to access roofs and apply de-icing materials, or from ground level using ladders and snow rakes.
Falls are the most common cause of worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal. Workers can fall off roofs, through skylights, or from ladders and aerial lifts.
In addition to falls, workers removing snow, face other significant hazards including:
Injuries from using snow blowers and other mechanized equipment
Collapses or tip-overs of aerial lifts
Becoming engulfed by falling snow
Being shocked/electrocuted from contacting power lines or using damaged extension cords
Frostbite or hypothermia
OSHA requires that employers plan and use the safe work practices to protect workers during snow removal activities. Before snow starts to accumulate, think about what will be needed to remove snow from roofs or other elevated surfaces safely:
Can the snow be removed without workers going onto the roof?
Are there any hazards on the roof that could become hidden by the snow and will need to be marked so that workers can see them (skylights, roof drains, vents, etc.)?
How to remove snow based on the building’s layout to prevent unbalanced loading?
Determine the maximum load limit the roof can handle, and compare that to the estimated combined weight of the snow, the removal equipment, and workers on the roof
What tools, equipment, PPE, clothing, and footwear will workers need?
What training will workers need?
How will snow removal equipment be moved to the roof?
How will you protect workers and others on the ground from the snow and ice being removed?
Remove Snow Without Going on the Roof
Whenever possible, use methods to clear ice and snow that don’t require workers to go on the roof, such as using ladders to apply de-icing materials or using snow rakes or draglines from the ground.
Use Required Fall Protection
Falls cause most of the deaths and severe injuries that occur during snow removal operations. OSHA requires employers to evaluate and protect workers from fall hazards when working at heights of 4 feet or more above a lower level (1910.23), 6 feet, or more for construction work (1926.501).
If workers must access roofs and other elevated surfaces to clear snow:
Train them on fall hazards and the proper use of fall protection equipment,
Ensure all workers use their fall protection equipment when removing snow in areas that are not adequately guarded
Have workers put on their fall protection equipment before accessing the roof
Have a written rescue plan in case a fallen worker becomes caught by a fall protection system
Remove or mark rooftop or landscaping features that could present trip or fall hazards
Workers at ground level removing snow from the roof, and bystanders, can become trapped under snow falling from roofs and suffocate. Snow being removed for a roof can be dangerous. One cubic foot of dry snow weighs about seven pounds, while a cubic foot of wet snow weighs anywhere from 12 to 18 pounds. To protect personnel from removed snow:
Identify a safe work zone in the area where snow is being removed to keep the public back 10 feet from where snow is expected to fall
Instruct workers to wear eye and head protection when removing snow and ice.
Instruct workers using snow rakes and draglines to remove only small amounts of snow at a time.
Effective planning and preparation can protect workers and the public from injuries during snow removal work.
This winter has been one of the worst for much of the U.S., with near-record snow, ice, and many other weather hazards. Walking in winter weather can be particularly dangerous.
Snow is bad enough, but ice and icy conditions can present a far greater hazard to your health. Snow is easy to see, remove, and does provide some traction. Ice, on the other hand, can be hard to see and dangerous, especially if you’re on foot.
The last thing you want to do is fight the weather, get to work, park your car, and then injure yourself when you get there. Slipping and falling on parking lot and sidewalk ice injuries in are common, and can cause serious injuries. Broken arms, wrists, and hips are far too common in snowy and icy conditions.
Here are some general tips to help companies and employees stay safe when conditions are icy:
Employers should clear snow and ice from walking surfaces and spread deicer as quickly as possible after a storm.
Employees should wear footwear that has good traction and insulation. Avoid wearing boots or shoes with smooth leather or plastic soles and heels. You should always wear shoes or boots made of non-slip rubber or neoprene with grooved soles when walking on snow and ice.
Wear a heavy, bulky coat that will cushion you if you should fall.
Wear a bright colored or reflective clothing so drivers can see you.
Keep warm, but make sure you can hear what’s going on around you.
During the day, wear sunglasses to help you see better and avoid hazards.
Walk like a penguin
In cold temperatures, assume that all wet, dark areas on pavement and sidewalks are slippery and icy. A thin layer of moisture can freeze on cold surfaces, forming a nearly invisible layer of black ice that can look like a wet spot on the pavement.
Walk in designated walkways whenever possible. Taking shortcuts over snow piles and other frozen areas can be dangerous. Avoid walking in the street if at all possible, icy streets are slippery for cars too, and they’re much more difficult to stop.
When walking on ice, angle your feet out, like a penguin, this will increase your center of gravity.
Lean slightly forward and walk flat-footed to keep your center of gravity directly over your feet.
Taking short steps will help you keep your balance
Extend your arms out to your sides to maintain balance. If you must carry a load, try not to carry too much; leave your hands and arms free to balance yourself.
If you do carry something, carry it in your dominant hand. This can help prevent you from using your dominant hand break your fall, and avoid injuring your hand, wrist, or arm.
Keep your hands out of your pockets. Putting your hands in your pockets while walking may keep them warm, but it decreases your center of gravity, balance, and increases your chances of slipping and falling.
Watch where you’re walking, focus on the path in front of you, and take your time
When walking on stairs always use the hand-railings and plant your feet firmly on each step.
It’s easy to lose your balance when getting into or out of your car, use the vehicle to help support yourself.
Look at the ground while you’re walking, don’t end up slipping on ice that we could have seen if we had been looking.
Walking on a slippery floor can be just as dangerous as walking on ice. Keep these tips in mind when entering a building:
Melting ice or water on the floor can make it slippery.
Watch for floors and stairs that may be wet and slippery, walk carefully by outer doors.
Determine the best path to take to get to your destination and take a little extra time to get there
Be sure to use floor mats when entering a building to remove moisture from the soles of your shoes – this will help protect you, and others, from having to walk on wet or slippery surfaces
Winter weather can be irritating enough without adding injury to the equation.
Cold-related injuries can be costly to a business, costly to treat, painful, and in severe cases, fatal. It is an employer’s responsibility to develop a written cold-stress prevention program that provides workers with the knowledge to work safely in cold temperatures.
While a given prevention program will need to be tailored to your specific workplace, use these basics to get you started. Following are elements of cold safety to include in your program:
The Right Gear
Multiple layers of loose clothing create an insulating effect. Avoid tight clothing as it inhibits circulation. Just remember, clothing that is too bulky may restrict movement and become a hazard of its own.
Choose boots that are both insulated and waterproof. Cold environments where snow and/or ice is involved will require footgear that provides traction to protect against slipping and tripping.
The head, hands, and feet lose heat rapidly. Wear a hat, gloves, and layered socks.
Additional protective gear may be necessary depending on weather conditions and work performed. Consider full face protection or waterproof pants, for example.
Moisture carries heat from the body at an accelerated rate (24 times faster, as a matter of fact). If sweating from intense work activity – or any other source of moisture – dampens clothes, workers should change immediately. Always carry a change of dry clothes onsite.
During breaks, move into a warm location. Time spent exposed to cold temperatures between breaks should be limited.
When possible, schedule all work that isn’t urgent to be done during the warmest times of the day when the sun is high and wind conditions are calmer.
It’s important workers are scheduled in teams of at least two. The buddy system allows workers to monitor each other’s conditions and behaviors, watching for signs of cold stress and taking appropriate action when necessary. Appropriate action would include escorting the affected worker to a heated area, performing first aid (or dialing emergency medical assistance), and contacting management.
Working in cold weather depletes the body’s resources more quickly than normal. Taking frequent breaks will help worker’s avoid fatigue, and eating foods high in calories and carbohydrates will contribute to energy resources. Stay hydrated, but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Consider providing employees warm beverages.
Having radiant heaters in place may help workers stay warm while on the job, but beware of the hazards of carbon monoxide — never run heaters, generators, or other carbon monoxide-generating equipment in an enclosed area.
When possible, use engineering controls to alter the worksite appropriately. Erect wind guards and insulate any exposed metal designed for worker contact.
Training and Knowledge
Being properly trained in the characteristics and symptoms of cold-related injuries is very important. It helps workers recognize changes in their own body, and coworkers. Training should include knowledge of cold-related injuries, what their symptoms are, and applicable first aid. The most common cold-related health concerns are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops to approximately 95°F (normal temperature is 98.6°F). It is a result of body heat being depleted faster than it is generated, and is a very serious condition. Hypothermia can have long-lasting health implications, and if left untreated, may result in death.
One of the most disconcerting hazards of hypothermia is it affects the brain, often causing the victim to be unable to think clearly. As a result, a worker may not be entirely aware it’s happening (bringing us back to the importance of the buddy system).
The symptoms of hypothermia evolve over time. In its early stages, victims may shiver, show fatigue, be confused or disoriented, and have a loss of coordination. Later on, shivering will cease. Skin may become a pale blue color and their pulse and breath will slow. At this point, loss of consciousness is possible.
If someone is showing symptoms of hypothermia, notify the nearest supervisor and contact medical assistance. Move the victim to a warm area. Remove any wet clothing and warm them gradually — do not try to shock their body temperature up, as that can cause additional damage. Wrap them in dry layers of blankets and use an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact. If they are conscious, give them warm beverages. If they have fallen unconscious and have no pulse, perform CPR until medical professionals arrive.
Frostbite is the result of skin losing moisture and freezing. Blood vessels are constricted and damaged, and in severe cases, amputation of the affected area is required. The average temperatures at which frostbite occurs are under 30°F, but keep in mind that wind chill may be a factor.
This affliction favors the extremities, such as the ears, face (nose, lips), fingers, and toes where body heat is lost first. Early symptoms often include a waxy appearance on the affected tissue. Numbness or sharp prickling sensations are also common, although pain is not always prevalent. Later symptoms are hardness of the tissue and blistering, at which case the frostbite has become a severe medical emergency.
If a worker has frostbite, take them to a warm area and contact medical assistance. You may wrap the affected tissue in a warm cloth, or immerse it in warm water (maximum 105°F). Two things to remember while waiting for medical response: do not attempt to warm the tissue if there is a chance that it will get cool again, and do not rub the area to warm it. Both cases can cause severe tissue damage.
Trench foot is often considered a less severe form of frostbite, caused when feet are immersed in cold water for extended periods of time. While its severity may be less, prolonged immersion and lack of treatment may, like frostbite, lead to amputation. Trench foot may occur at water temperatures as high as 50°F.
Symptoms may include itching, numbness, tickling, swelling, and discoloration (red, blue, or black, depending on the severity).
Move trench foot victims to a warm location and contact medical assistance. Immerse the foot in warm water and then wrap it in dry cloth or bandages.
The On-site Implementation and Audit Team were a great help building a robust safety program, walking us through implementation and facilitating the audit.