OSHA: Winter Weather Hazards for Workers

Winter presents a unique set of hazards for everyone who ventures out into the cold, but especially for workers who spend time on the roads and in the elements. Understanding potential hazards, as well as precautions that employers and employees should take can help keep workers safe despite the elements. Check out these quick facts and tips for different winter weather hazards workers might face.

Cold Stress

Cold temperatures and wind chill can cause the body to lose heat quickly, putting workers at risk of cold stress. Cold stress can manifest in many ways, but the most common types are:

  • Hypothermia: Normal body temperature drops to 95 degrees or less.
    • Symptoms: Mild – alert, but shivering | Moderate to Severe – shivering stops, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slow, loss of consciousness.
  • Frostbite: Body tissues freeze.
    • Symptoms: numbness, reddened skin develops gray/white patches, feels firm/hard, blistering.
  • Trench Foot (aka Immersion Foot): non-freezing injury caused by lengthy exposure to wet/cold environment.
    • Symptoms: redness, swelling, numbness, blisters.

When working in cold temperatures, it is imperative to ensure employees:

  • Dress Properly
  • Keep Skin/Clothing Dry
  • Rest Frequently (if possible, in a warm area)
  • Have Training on Cold Stress Hazards
  • Have access to Engineering Controls (e.g. heaters, etc.)

Winter Driving

Employers should ensure that all workers who may drive in winter weather conditions can recognize winter weather driving hazards, are properly trained to drive in such conditions and are licensed to operate any vehicle they drive.

All vehicles should be properly maintained regardless of weather conditions, but especially when winter weather conditions exist. Check the following systems before vehicles head out on the road:

  • Brakes: Brakes should provide even and balanced braking and brake fluid should be filled to the proper level.
  • Cooling System: Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water filled to the proper level.
  • Electrical System: Check that the ignition system is functioning, the battery is fully charged and the connections are clean, and the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
  • Engine: Inspect all engine systems.
  • Exhaust System: Check exhaust for leaks and ensure clamps and hangers are snug.
  • Tires: Check tire tread and pressure.
  • Oil: Check that oil is filled to proper level.
  • Visibility Systems: Ensure functionality of all exterior lights, defrosters (windshield and rear window), and wipers.
  • Emergency Kit: Keep an emergency kit in all vehicles with the following items:
    • Cellphone or Two-Way Radio
    • Windshield Ice Scraper/Snow Brush
    • Flashlight (with Extra Batteries)
    • Shovel
    • Tow chain
    • Traction Aids
    • Emergency Flares
    • Jumper Cables
    • Snacks/Water
    • Maps
    • Blankets/Warm Clothes

If you are stranded in a vehicle in winter weather:

  • Stay in the vehicle
  • Call for assistance & notify your supervisor
  • Display a trouble sign (e.g. hang a brightly colored cloth on the vehicle antenna, raise the hood)
  • Turn on the vehicle’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour and run the heat to keep warm
  • Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning; keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia; do not overexert yourself, but do smaller movements to keep blood flowing
  • Use blankets, newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation

Preventing Slips on Snow and Ice

To prevent slips, trips, and falls in winter weather conditions:

  • Clear walking surfaces of snow and ice, spreading deicer where necessary
  • Wear proper footwear – a pair of insulated and water-resistant boots with good rubber tread
  • Take short steps and walk at a slower pace so you can react quickly to a change in traction

Shoveling Snow

Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity. There is a potential for exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries, or heart attacks. Take the following precautions to stay safe:

  • Warm-up before the activity
  • Scoop small amounts of snow at a time
  • Push instead of lifting the snow, when possible
  • When lifting snow, use proper technique: keep the back straight, lift with the legs and do not turn or twist the body

Powered Equipment like Snow Blowers

When utilizing powered equipment, like snow blowers, follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Ensure equipment is properly grounded to prevent electric shocks or electrocutions
  • If cleaning or performing maintenance, make sure the equipment is properly guarded and disconnected from power sources
  • If clearing a jam, make sure the equipment is disconnected from the power source and use a long stick, etc. to clear the debris
  • Refuel equipment prior to starting the machine; do not add fuel when the equipment is running or when the engine is hot

Repairing Downed or Damaged Power Lines

When working on downed or damaged power lines, electrical utility workers should:

  • Use safe work practices, appropriate tools and equipment (including personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Assume all power lines are energized and stay clear of any downed or damaged power lines
  • Establish a safe distance from power lines and report any incidents to the responsible authority

Removing Downed Trees

When removing downed trees in winter weather, workers should:

  • Wear PPE that protect them from the hazards of the tree removal tasks, such as gloves, chaps, foot protection, eye protection, fall protection, hearing protection and head protection
  • Utilize only powered equipment designed for outdoor and wet conditions
  • Use all equipment and tools (saws, chippers, etc.) properly and for the purpose that they are designed for
  • Ensure that equipment is always maintained in serviceable condition and inspected before use by a knowledgeable person that can identify any problems with the equipment
  • Ensure equipment is properly guarded (as applicable); safe guards should not be bypassed