Winter is one of the most dangerous times of year for weather-related injuries and fatalities. In cold weather, everyday tasks – such as working, driving and walking – come with serious risks. Understanding these risks, and knowing how to avoid them, is crucial to keeping yourself, your employees and your loved ones safe this season.
Use these member-exclusive resources to stay safe this winter.
5-Minute Safety Talk: Working in the Cold I 5-Minute Safety Talk: Winter Driving I Poster: Working Outside in the Cold I Poster: Cold Weather Do’s and Don’ts I Poster: Winter Driving I 2-Minute Safety Video I Tip Sheet I Quiz I Checklist: Winter Driving
Cold waves and winter storms are among the most dangerous weather events in the United States; in 2021 alone winter weather killed more than 200 people and injured hundreds more. Sleet, snow, ice and frigid temperatures all come with significant risks. If you plan to work in an outdoor crew – or outside your own home – prepare for the cold by taking steps to keep yourself safe.
● Put on 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 and hands with a hat and waterproof gloves
● Wear boots that are waterproof and insulated
● Include chemical hot packs in your first aid kit
● Learn the signs of common cold-weather injuries, including frostbite and hypothermia; look out for symptoms of these injuries and illnesses in yourself and others, and tell your supervisor immediately if you notice them
If possible, schedule outdoor work for the warmest part of the day. Workers should take frequent breaks in warm places. In the cold, thirst is often suppressed, making us more vulnerable to dehydration. Drink warm, alcohol- and caffeine-free liquids to stay warm and hydrated.
Studies have found that cardiovascular diseases, including strokes and cardiac arrest, are more common in the winter months, when strenuous outdoor work and lower temperatures force our hearts to work harder. First aid and CPR training can help you prepare for these types of cold weather emergencies.
Cold-weather injuries and illnesses can lead to serious health problems. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you keep yourself and the people around you safe.
Frostbite is the most common cold-weather injury. It generally impacts the fingers hands, toes, feet, ears and nose and happens when a part of the body freezes. Some of the symptoms of superficial frostbite include:
● White, waxy or grayish-yellow patches on affected areas
● Skin feels numb and cold
● Skin is stiff but underlying tissue feels soft and pliable when depressed
Take the victim to a warm, dry area and remove any tight clothing that could impair circulation. Place dry, sterile gauze on the fingers and toes to absorb moisture, elevate the affected area, and seek medical attention. In more severe cases, deep frostbite may cause blisters. Move the victim indoors and get medical help immediately.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature dips below 95 degrees. Symptoms may include:
● A change in mental status
● Uncontrollable shivering
● If severe, it can cause rigid muscles, dark, puffy skin, irregular heart and respiratory rates and/or unconsciousness
If you notice these signs, take the victim out of the cold and place them in a flat position. Replace any wet clothing, cover their head and use blankets, pillows, towels or newspapers to insulate the victim. Provide a warm, sweet drink if you can and seek immediate medical attention.
Use a buddy system to ensure everyone has a partner looking out for them, and keeping an eye out for signs and symptoms of cold weather illness and injury.
We’ve all been there: the unexpected patch of black ice, the sudden blizzard, the car that won’t start in freezing temperatures. For many of us, winter driving is inevitable, and so are the risks. While you cannot always predict the conditions on the road, you can prepare yourself and your vehicle for the dangers of cold weather driving.
First, make sure your car is in the best condition possible before taking it out on the road this winter. Have a mechanic check over all the vehicle systems, including the brakes, ignition, tires and anti-freeze. Use your license plate or VIN number to search for open recalls; if your car has a recall, take it into a dealer as soon as possible.
Whether for your personal car or company vehicle, take these additional steps before driving this winter:
● Check the weather, and allow extra time for traveling
● Warm up your car in an open air space; even a garage with an open door poses risks
● Brush off your entire car, including the roof
● Become familiar with your car’s safety features, and make sure all sensors and cameras are free of ice and dirt
● Keep the gas tank at least half full
● Let someone know where you are going and notify them when you arrive
● Slow down and increase your following distance
Once you arrive at your destination, choose a parking spot free of ice. Slips, trips and falls are serious risks; falls to the same level are the third most common injury causing time away from work, according to Injury Facts. When exiting your car walk slowly and keep your hands free for balance. Stay on even sidewalks as much as possible and avoid distractions.
Remember, if local road or weather conditions seem extreme, you can and should stay home. Driving, walking and working are dangerous even in the best cold weather conditions. By preparing yourself and your vehicle this winter you can mitigate the risks of injury and illness this time of year brings.