USPS Safety Spotlight - National Safety Council

Delivering Safety

December 2021

Get Ready for Cold Weather

Winter is here, and with it are serious work- and driving-related dangers. From navigating icy roads to shoveling snow in frigid winds, it’s important to understand the risks of cold weather and how to prevent incidents and injuries. 

Use these member-exclusive resources to stay safe this winter.

5-Minute Safety Talk I Poster: Working Outside in the Cold I Poster: Cold Weather Do's and Don'ts I Quiz I 2-Minute Video I Tip Sheet

Work Safely in Winter Weather

Even without snow or sleet, cold weather is a hazard. Without the right preparations, working in the cold can be dangerous and even deadly. Whether you’re snow blowing or working as part of an outdoor crew, take precautions to prevent injury from frostbite and hypothermia.

Before going outside, a few simple steps can keep you safe:

  • Check the temperature and limit outdoor time if the weather is very cold, wet or windy
  • Bundle up in several layers of loose clothing
  • Wear synthetic fabrics close to the skin. If it’s wet out, wear waterproof or water-repellant clothing
  • Protect your ears, face, hands and feet
  • Wear boots that are waterproof and insulated
  • Include chemical hot packs in your first aid kit

It’s important to also know the signs of cold-weather injuries and illnesses. Spotting the symptoms early can help you keep yourself, your loved ones and your coworkers healthy in cold weather.

Frostbite is the most common injury related to cold weather exposure, and can happen even to skin that is protected by clothing. When left untreated, it can lead to permanent tissue damage and amputation.

Frostbite is most common in the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Early signs include skin redness that becomes white or grey in color, and that feels waxy, firm, or numb to the touch.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature dips below 95 degrees, either due to exposure to cold temperatures or cold water. Severe shivering is the first sign, followed by exhaustion, drowsiness, confusion, and slurred speech.

Once you’ve been out in the cold, it’s important to listen to your body. Work in pairs with a buddy to ensure each other’s safety, and take frequent breaks to warm up. You should also drink warm, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free liquids and eat warm foods to keep your body warm and fluid levels up. Be sure to tell your supervisor if you need something. 

Prepare for Winter Driving

It may seem routine, but driving in winter carries great risks. Storms make it harder to see and can leave drivers stranded. The best way to ensure that you’ll be able to meet these challenges is to prepare your car for cold weather emergencies.

Whether you’re driving a personal car, a company vehicle or you manage a fleet, you should always have an emergency toolkit in case you get stranded in your vehicle.

This kit should include:

  • Sunglasses
  • Basic toolkit
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Flares and other reflective triangles
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Mobile phone with vehicle charger
  • Shovel
  • Heavy, warm clothing and blankets
  • Gas tank at least two-thirds full
  • Ice scraper and snow brush
  • Sand or kitty litter to use for traction
  • Non-perishable foods and liquids

To ensure your vehicle is ready for inclement weather, have it regularly inspected by a trained mechanic. Maintain all the fluid levels and your tires, and learn how to change a tire and use booster cables.

These supplies help prepare you for an emergency, but there are steps you can take to avoid getting in an emergency situation. Before driving in winter, take a few moments to check the weather forecast and traffic conditions. Let a family member or friend know your route, travel plans and arrival time. Warm up your car in an open-air space, and if you need to use a scraper or brush to clear your entire car.

Once you’re on the road, the most important thing to remember is to take it slow. Precipitation, including sleet, ice and snow can make even the shortest drives treacherous. Go slow, keep your distance from other vehicles, and brake earlier to give yourself time to stop.

Tips for Walking Safely in Inclement Weather

You’ve scraped the frost off your car, safely navigated over icy roads and pulled into a parking space at work that is free of ice. It may feel like your trip is over. But in cold weather, even walking from your car into the office can pose serious hazards.

No matter your job, walking safely outside in cold weather is crucial to staying healthy. According to Injury Facts, falls to the same level are the second most common injury causing time away from work.  

When you get out of the vehicle, keep an eye out for traffic, and to avoid slipping, OSHA recommends wearing insulated, water-resistant boots with good rubber soles. Even with proper footwear, try to keep your hands free for balance, and stay on treated, flat sidewalks as much as possible. Similar to driving, take it slow while walking in winter conditions so you can respond safely to hazards.

Being prepared can ensure safe and happy gatherings throughout this winter season, but always remember: When the weather outside is frightful, it’s also OK to just stay home.