When we think of outdoor occupational hazards, lightning is often the first thing many of us think about; in the last ten years, it’s contributed to one out of five, work-related deaths. In reality, winter weather is a significant safety issue as well and there are clearly significant dangers to working in winter weather, including slippery conditions, strong winds and bitter cold.
Just this past winter, the extreme cold of January 2019 left 21 people dead, and those that work outside are highly susceptible to the dangers of the cold, ice and snow.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA), slips, trips and falls make up the larger part of common workplace accidents, and they are the cause of 15 percent of all accidental fatalities and are second only to motor vehicle accidents. In 2017, there were more than 20,000 work injuries involving ice, sleet, or snow that required at least one day away from work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
There are no OSHA specific standards concerning work in cold environments. However, under OSHA, employers have a duty and obligation to protect workers from all hazards. In addition to slips, trips and falls, cold stress and exposure are other concerns that may cause death or serious physical harm on the worksite.
OSHA works to help businesses and their workers prepare for winter weather and provide information about possible hazards that workers may face during and after a winter storm. While slips, trips and falls happen year-round, it’s the snowy and icy weather that create more hazardous environment that increases the risk of worker injuries. OSHA offers a number of tips to minimize the potential for injuries due to winter weather conditions. It’s important to evaluate potential winter-related hazards in your workplace and determine ways to mitigate the risks. Regularly monitor the work environment and make sure all employees have the necessary safety equipment or gear needed to be protected.
This winter, there will be plenty of weather that brings about potentially dangerous conditions. The DTN winter weather outlook says, that while there are more warm than cold days expected, particularly early in the season, those warm days will disappear with polar vortex disruptions leading to cold outbreaks especially January through March for the central and eastern United States.
While the West, Northern Plains and Great Lakes may see reduced snowfall, there is potential for heavy snows this winter on the East Coast and Central United States, a worry particularly for utilities and businesses that were affected adversely this past year. This pattern that would spawn a few potentially intense storms from Texas all the way through the Ohio Valley into portions of the Northeast. We only have to remember as far as last year, when the first half of the winter was relatively mild, only to be followed by some of the coldest weather in history as well as a delayed spring season for much of the country.
Given the potential for cold and wet weather, it’s a great time for businesses to think about how they will monitor the weather and reduce their risk for employee injuries or death.