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Winter Weather

Photo: Marc A. Hermann, MTA New York City heheransit

When the temperature drops and snow arrives, many of us takes steps to winterize our homes such as sealing air leaks, adding insulation and adjusting thermostat settings. If you are in charge of a business, you should also plan to winterize the workplace, as many of the same issues you face at home apply at work, too.

Winterizing the workplace isn’t too difficult; it just requires some preparation. Think about the following cold weather guidelines and whether you could better prepare your workplace for the winter.

Plan for Ice and Snow

If your workplace is in a large office building and you aren’t responsible for keeping walkways outside the building clear, you might be partially off the hook for ice and snow planning. You can still remind workers about appropriate winter footwear and walking carefully, though.

For those businesses that are responsible for dealing with snow and ice, snow removal and de-icing plans should be developed. Determine whether in-house employees will clear sidewalks, parking lots and other surfaces or whether you will hire a snow removal service. Obtain a de-icing agent and potentially a material like sand to aid in traction on walkways. Find out whether your de-icer requires any protective gear for employees who apply it.

If tripping hazards such as curbs or sloped areas aren’t as apparent in the snow, make an effort to mark these so they stand out.

Slipping Hazard Sign

Even when walkways are cleared of ice and snow, people entering your facility will still track water and dirt inside. Post signs about slippery floors and implement housekeeping measures for dealing with high-traffic areas. Slips, trips and falls are some of the most common injuries in winter, reports EHS Today, so do everything you can to prevent them.

If your facility has a loading dock, take extra care to make sure this area stays clear of ice and snow.

Determine How Temperatures Will Impact You

Winter Weather

Photo: John Shay, FEMA

In some workplaces, colder temperatures will simply require turning up the heat. That solution may not suffice in many facilities, though.

Consider the tasks your workers perform. Will they be outside for extended periods? Will they be exposed to cold near entrances or load docks? These workers will likely need personal protective equipment for cold weather such as boots, hats and gloves.

The cold can also impact your business in other ways. Maybe temperature impacts your products. Maybe your facility is located in an old building and temperature could cause drafts and cracks in walls or ceilings. Determine who will be responsible for dealing with these issues ahead of time and make sure your maintenance team is prepared for possible cold temperature problems that could arise.

Keep It Comfortable

Employees perform their best when they’re comfortable. This means you’ll likely have to address indoor air quality issues in winter. The indoor air temperature will need to be increased, but running a heater constantly means the air might be drier than normal. This can become uncomfortable for workers. Make sure to regulate humidity levels for this reason.

Dry air can also increase the risks associated with static. You should protect equipment and wires by using insulation and proper grounding, Occupational Health & Safety explains.

Some employees may wish to run space heaters in the winter to keep warm. If your facility allows this, make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order, as small electric devices like this can create hazards.

Finally, address any structural issues such as leaky windows, drafts and cracks that could decrease the effectiveness of your heating system.

Have Winter Weather Policies

Winter can bring strong storms to many parts of the country, and these storms impact travel. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a guide to help you understand weather advisories, watches and warnings that you can share with your employees. NOAA-issued weather alerts provide information about the severity of approaching weather and often provide advice for driving as well. Winter Weather

Determine weather a winter weather policy would benefit your workplace. Some employees might be able to telecommute during poor weather, so decide whether this is something you will allow. In many workplaces such as manufacturing facilities, for instance, this will not be possible, so inform employees of how you would like them to communicate with you if travel to work during adverse weather conditions is not possible or have them determine alternate methods of transportation to and from work.

Along with communicating winter weather policies to employees, you can also use this opportunity to share safe driving tips for winter months. NOAA provides a list of winter driving best practices that you could provide to employees:

  • Keep your gas tank full to prevent your car’s fuel line from freezing.
  • Carry a cell phone.
  • Inform others of your travel route and estimated time of arrival.
  • Have an emergency kit in your vehicle that includes blankets, extra warm clothes, tools, a shovel, an ice scraper, food and water.
  • Have kitty litter or sand in your trunk to add traction if your tires get stuck in a slippery spot.

Winter weather can be unpredictable and it can have significant impacts on your business. Prepare your facility, your policies and your people for the cold. For more information about dressing for the weather, read PPE for Cold Weather. If many of your employees work outdoors, consult Cold Stress – Learn to Prevent and Treat It.

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