Winter Work Safety

Originally published 01/31/2018

When performing construction and other work during the winter season, be mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death. Employers should monitor the weather to keep track of forecasts.

Following are several tips to consider while working outdoors during the winter months:

  • Require proper gear. Workers need to have the right clothing for severe weather, including boots, heavy coats, gloves and hats. Employers should require all workers to wear clothing that will keep them warm and dry to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Also, shoes should have nonslip soles to prevent falling. Consider keeping extra clothing on hand should your clothing get wet.
  • Protect your head, neck and ears. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.
  • Wear the right gloves for the work you are doing. They should have enough insulation to keep you warm and prevent frostbite, but thin enough so you can feel what you are doing if you are manipulating controls or tools. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets to reduce the risk of falling or losing your balance in case you slip while walking on ice or snow.
  • Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications that inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement. These items can increase your heart rate and may cause your blood vessels to constrict. Encourage workers to drink water.
  • Warm up your vehicle to help reduce the moisture condensation on the inside of your car windows. Remember, though, not to warm up your vehicle in a closed area.
  • After a winter storm, immediately report any downed power lines or broken gas lines in your area or workplace.
  • Prepare and identify a warm break area for workers to retreat. It can be a heated trailer or a tent with portable heaters. Always follow proper safety procedures with heating devices.
  • Before work begins, review the area to ensure no new hazards have formed while you were away. Common hazards are snow and ice accumulations or downed power lines and trees.
  • Before work is started on a site, ensure that snow is removed, salt or sand is put down and large patches of ice are chipped away to greatly reduce the risk of injury.
  • All work vehicles should be inspected to determine if they are fully functioning. Winter kits should be added to every vehicle including an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, tow chain, flashlight with extra batteries, emergency flares, a blanket, snacks, and water.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. Prepare in advance, observe safety precautions and reduce your risk of weather-related injury. Safety is being prepared.

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Driving on Snow and Ice

Originally published 01/20/2016

The best advice for driving on snow and ice is to avoid it if you can. If you can’t, it’s important to make sure your vehicle is prepared, and that you know how to handle the road conditions. The following tips will help make your drive safer on snow and ice.

Driving safely on icy roads:

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding.
  • Turn on your lights so that other drivers can see you.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads. These areas will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas.
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sand trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind them.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your vehicle starts to skid:

  • Remain calm.
  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump them, but apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse; this is normal.
  • Steer to safety.

If you get stuck:

  • Use a light touch on the gas to ease your car out.
  • Don’t spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • You may want to try rocking the vehicle. Give a light touch on the gas pedal and then release it. Repeating this action will start a rocking motion and could free your vehicle.
  • If necessary, use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the vehicle.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels to increase traction.

Keep in mind that winter brings adverse weather conditions. Be prepared to operate your vehicle in a defensive manner, and watch out for other vehicles on the road. Driving on snow and ice can be tricky, but can be done safely. Remember: Think safety and act safely.

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Winter Work Safety

Each season brings its own set of hazards for construction workers. As we enter the winter season, be especially mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death.

Low temperatures, high winds, dampness and cold water can contribute to cold-related stress on your body. Wearing inadequate or wet clothing increases the effects of cold on the body. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement.

Fatigue, nausea, confusion, lightheadedness and profuse sweating are symptoms of hypothermia. Exposed skin can start to freeze at just 28F causing frostbite. Deep frostbite can cause blood clots and even gangrene.

Following are several tips to consider while working outdoors during the winter months:

  • Keep your body temperature at or about normal (98.6F). This can be accomplished by wearing layers of clothing.
  • Wear cotton or lightweight wool fabrics next to your skin. Add layers when you are cold, remove layers when hot.
  • Keep your clothing as dry as possible. Protect your clothing as needed by wearing rain gear and other durable garments. Keep an extra pair of socks handy so you can change them as needed. You may also want to consider investing in waterproof footwear.
  • Protect your head, neck and ears. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.
  • Wear the right gloves for the work you are doing. They should have enough insulation to keep you warm and prevent frostbite, but thin enough so you can feel what you are doing if you are manipulating controls or tools.
  • Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.

If your skin becomes discolored and it appears that circulation has been limited, then you are probably experiencing the early stages of frostbite. If this occurs, find a way to immediately start warming that particular part of the body. Tips for treating frostbite include:

  • When possible, go indoors or to a warmer area to prevent further exposure.
  • Never rub or massage the affected body part.
  • Never use hot water. You should gradually warm the frostbitten area by immersing it in lukewarm water.
  • If blisters develop, cover them with a bandage or gauze to prevent them from opening and becoming infected.
  • Refrain from smoking as it slows down the circulation of blood to the extremities.
  • Avoid caffeine. It constricts blood vessels.
  • When normal feeling, movement and skin color have returned, the area affected should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm.
  • If the condition does not improve, seek professional medical attention.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. Prepare in advance, observe safety precautions and reduce your risk of weather-related injury.

Download the recording form here.

Cold Weather Machine Safety

Cold weather affects motorized equipment — not only the engine, but the hydraulic systems as well. Equipment that does not operate smoothly or predictably is a safety hazard to operators and other workers near it.

You should apply engine coolants and hydraulic hose lubricants in the fall before cold weather actually sets in. Throughout the winter, it is important to plan extra time to let the machine warm up. When you park a machine for 16 or more hours, both the engine and all of the operating systems will be at ambient temperature, which in winter can be 20° or lower on many mornings, well below normal operating temperature for the equipment. Failing to warm the engine could result in material damage, accidents and injury to workers due to engine stalls and jerky, uncontrollable actions of the hydraulic systems.

If you don’t allow the engine to warm completely, the cold can damage engine valve components. When an engine runs below normal operating temperature, it doesn’t completely burn the fuel and oil in the combustion chambers. The result is soft carbon deposits, which will interfere with valve operation, and can cause burned valves, bent pushrods and other damage to valve mechanism components. To avoid valve damage, always run the engine until the coolant temperature is at least 82° Celsius (180° Fahrenheit).

One major equipment manufacturer suggests that you begin the warmup with the hydraulics. They recommend that the operator run the engine at less than one-third throttle and slowly move the control lever in order to lift the attachment, then lower the attachment slowly. Continue the sequence: raising, lowering, extending and retracting, extending the travel during each cycle. We refer to this as exercising the equipment. Exercising the equipment will bring the machine and its operating components up to the appropriate operating temperature, which will ensure smooth and safe operation of the equipment.

Remember, keep machines in good running condition and plan that extra time for warmup.

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