As an employer, there are safety concerns, OSHA regulations and liability risks associated with working in cold weather. Be prepared for all scenarios before the weather arrives, and make sure employees are properly informed of relevant policies and procedures.
Related: 3 ways to prevent OSHA penalties
Your biggest concern should be the safety of your employees. This is especially important for employees working outside or who are exposed to weather conditions throughout the day.
OSHA has issued guidelines offering precautionary measures to prevent cold stress, which can lead to tissue damage, hypothermia, frostbite — conditions that can cause serious injury or death. Factors that contribute to cold stress include low temperatures, wind, humidity and contact with cold water or surfaces. Remember that with enough moisture and wind, even temperatures of 50 degrees can cause cold stress.
Precautions employees should take while working in cold weather:
- Take breaks to get warm.
- Drink plenty of liquids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- Avoid smoking, which constricts blood flow to skin.
- Know and understand symptoms of cold-related injuries.
- Stretch before physical work begins.
- Wear protective clothing:
- Three layers, including something close to skin to wick moisture, an insulation layer, and an outer wind and waterproof layer loose enough to allow ventilation and prevent overheating.
- Hat or hood
- Insulated boots
Winter weather can cause unusual conditions and higher risks for those in the construction industry. It is important to train employees on safety procedures, and make sure they understand the danger of exposed skin, insufficient protective wear, and cold, wet or slippery equipment. Employees should also be trained to recognize cold-weather injuries to themselves and coworkers, and how to treat such incidents.
Driving on company time
Another concern regarding winter weather and construction is employees driving a company vehicle. Driving in severe weather can be extremely dangerous. All vehicles should be given a thorough safety check before bad weather hits. Vehicles should be equipped with emergency items like a snow scraper, water, blanket, first aid kit and flashlight.
In order to protect your company against liability, any employees who may drive in bad weather on company time should be trained in safe, cautious driving techniques, and understand what to do in case of an accident. All of these cold and inclement weather provisions should be included in your safety plan, and discussed before and during the onset of such weather.
Employees should be informed of your company policies related to inclement weather and safety. Have an established communication method to inform employees of bad weather. Address your winter policies again, remind employees of communication channels, and plan for the worst-case scenarios to ensure your employees stay safe.