The biggest thing that can put workers at risk during the winter?
“Pushing through awful conditions,” says Abby Ferri, CSP. With more than 14 years of experience in safety and health—in industries including construction, manufacturing, healthcare, hospitality, beverage, and retail—Ferri is President of The Ferri Group. The Ferri Group provides practical and proven safety and risk management services to clients.
Ferri has been described as the “practical and creative safety professional,” and it’s easy to see why!
“It’s important to identify conditions when work should be limited or stopped. Working through severe weather may be less productive anyway than simply holding off for a nicer day,” explains Ferri, whom we spoke with to create a list of top safety tips for winter.
Keeping this in mind, here are 9 other tips for you this season:
1. Empower your managers. First and foremost, empower supervisors with the information to make the right decisions when conditions are harsh, says Ferri. “Many labor unions have policies on temperatures and conditions at which work should be stopped. Make sure you’re familiar with your local rules.”
Next, be sure leaders know the signs of cold stress. According to OSHA, shivering can be a mild symptom of cold stress. “Moderate to severe symptoms include when the shivering stops, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slowness, and loss of consciousness. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related injuries may occur, such as frostbite.”
2. If the gear isn’t right, don’t let people work. Workers without proper winter gear and equipment should be given alternate assignments or sent home, says Ferri.
Start with a form fitting base layer, a warm mid layer like fleece or flannel, and top with outer layers per the outside conditions. For days where precipitation is in the air, it’s important to have a moisture resistant outer layer.”
“Remind workers of proper layering. Provide them information on how to make good decisions on clothing to stay warm.” (OSHA also offers guidelines on layering clothing for workers.)
Protection for the extremities is tough when the job requires dexterity. Construction workers, in particular, have limited options, but the market has improved. “Look for gloves that meet the needs of the tasks you’ll do while also providing warmth. Heat pockets can be a nice comfort to stuff in your pockets, mittens, or boots,” says Ferri.
“A warm hat that’s knit with a fleece or flannel interior can keep you toasty. However, thicker knit hats are not a good choice to wear under hard hats. Check with the manufacturer instructions for your hard hat for suggestions on hats that can be worn under it.”
3. Don’t let workers off the hook, either. If workers don’t have the right gear, you don’t want them to put themselves at risk. At the same time, make sure they know expectations given the season! “It’s good practice for them to have a set of warm and dry clothing and footwear throughout the year and especially the winter,” says Ferri. There’s nothing worse than being wet and cold with no change of clothes, and workers need to have good judgment in terms of planning ahead this time of year.
4. Adjust schedules. Give employees the ability to adjust their schedule so that they have extra time for their morning commute, or for any driving they might have to do throughout the day—especially if they are going to multiple worksites. Safety is more important than getting somewhere at a specific time.
5. Teach team members the penguin shuffle. When workers arrive on-site, ask that they do the penguin shuffle so that they can safely make it from their vehicle to the worksite or building.
6. Keep reminding workers of the conditions around them. Frequent reminders are helpful, says Ferri. And not all of those “reminders” have to be verbal or written communication: “Have a shovel and bucket of sand, salt, or other de-icing mix at the front door. This enables anyone to take the action needed to keep the common sidewalk areas as safe as possible.”
7. Be sure to cover your mouth and nose. One mistake many workers make is neglecting to cover their mouth or nose. This helps to warm the air before it enters the nasal passages and lungs. “There are some really techy nose and mouth covers that recycle the warmed air throughout the garment, so those are options, too,” says Ferri.
8. Ensure socks and footwear are up to par. Socks and footwear should be in good condition. “Personally, I have a pair of slightly larger work boots for winter to accommodate thick wool socks. I always start the winter season by re-applying waterproofing spray to my boots.”
9. Maintain communication and contact with workers who are outside and/or working remotely. You can never make the mistake of forgetting about workers who are off site, outside, or working remotely, especially if they are “out of sight”. Remember that if hypothermia sets in, a worker can begin to make bad decisions. “Ensure that supervisors frequently monitor workers for any change in their state of health.”
A Safe & Healthy Winter
By following tips like these, workers can remain safe and healthy this winter. Ferri says she’s looking forward to a safe and prosperous 2018. She’s also getting excited about technology and EHS software that will increase the possibilities of improved and nearly instant communication, observations, corrections, and analysis.
In the end, don’t take anything for granted with your workers! “Even the hardiest Minnesotans around here with decades of winter experience still can benefit from reminders on winter safety,” says Ferri.
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