Every year, snow removal operations present a danger to your hardworking employees and have the potential to result in injuries, like cold stress. Keeping your employees safe and healthy while working in the harsh winter months is a top priority for every business owner and facility manager. Continue reading to learn more about employee and cold stress safety and prevention.
What Employers Should Do Before Snow Work Starts
The employer’s job is to establish operational safety during snow removal activities. Before any work can begin, an employer should be sure to provide thorough safety training on preventing the injuries and illnesses that occur when body temperature is driven too low or cold stress for their workers. They should also have the worksite checked for hazards and train workers to identify potential hazards.
Employers should also provide training and access to protective equipment while following all manufacturer instructions for using the equipment safely. The employer should also have a plan for any cold stress injuries that occur while working.
What Are The Rights of Employees?
A snow worker has certain rights that they should keep in mind before starting work. Firstly, they are entitled to work conditions that don’t pose any serious danger or risk.
Also, they have the right to receive training and information on workplace hazards and how to prevent them - specifically OSHA rules on working in cold weather. Workers also have the right to review records of work-related illness and injuries, report injuries, as well as confidentially file a complaint, and report injuries or safety concerns to OSHA.
What Is Cold Stress?
In order to properly keep employees safe, it’s important to know what cold stress is and how it can occur. Freezing temperatures and increased wind speed result in heat leaving the body rapidly. Wetness or dampness, even something as benign as body sweat, can also lead to a rapid drop in body temperature.
Cold stress often occurs when one is working in cold temperature and weather conditions, dropping the temperature of the skin and eventually leading to a lower internal body temperature. The body is then incapable of warming itself properly, leading to serious illnesses and injuries, even death.
What Are the Common Types of Cold Stress
There are a few kinds of cold stress that can be a danger to employees working in freezing temperatures in the winter months. The most common types of cold stress are immersion foot syndrome, also known as trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia.
Immersion foot syndrome, more commonly known as trench foot, is a non-freezing injury of the feet that occurs when there is prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions. This injury occurs because a wet foot will lose heat 25 times faster than a dry foot. This is why, assuming the foot remains consistently wet, trench foot can be an issue even in temperatures as high as 60°F.
There are a few common symptoms of trench foot that all employees should be aware of in order to maintain ice and snow removal safety. Symptoms can include red or reddening skin, swelling, pain, tingling, numbness, blisters, and cramps in the foot or feet affected.
If any of these symptoms occur, immediately seek medical assistance, or in the case of an emergency, call 911. The wet shoes or boots, as well as the wet socks, should be removed, and the feet should be subsequently dried. Avoid walking and working on the feet, and be sure to keep them elevated while waiting for medical assistance.
Frostbite is one of the more well-known forms of cold stress, caused by the skin and tissues freezing in chilled weather. Frostbite can lead to permanent damage, and in more extreme cases, amputation. Employees not dressed appropriately for the weather conditions will be more susceptible to frostbite. Also, be aware that those with reduced blood circulation are at greater risk of frostbite.
There are a number of symptoms that can occur and will primarily be found on the fingers, toes, nose, and ear lobes (though frostbite can occur anywhere on the body). These symptoms include reddened skin developing gray or white patches, tingling, aching, blisters, and loss of feeling of the affected areas.
In the case of frostbite, make sure to immediately seek medical attention. Be sure to move the employee somewhere warm and dry and protect the frostbitten area; remove any wet clothes, cover the area with a dry cloth, do not rub the affected area, do not apply water or snow, and do not break blisters. Do not try to rewarm the frostbitten areas with warm water or heating pads, just wait for medical assistance.
Hypothermia is when cold conditions cause the body to lose heat faster than it’s being produced, dropping the body temperature to below 95°F. The body will begin to use its stored energy to fight off the cold and keep the body functioning properly.
The most common symptom of hypothermia is uncontrollable shivering, which is a very good indicator that the body is too cold and is shivering to rewarm itself. Other symptoms include loss of coordination, slurred speech, confusion, slow heart rate, slow breathing, unconsciousness, and even death. As the body temperature lowers, it affects the brain, causing an inability to think clearly and move properly. Because of this, a person suffering from hypothermia might not know what’s happening or realize anything is wrong and will not get it treated in time.
If any of these symptoms occur, immediately call 911. The worker should be moved to a warm, dry area, and all wet clothing should be removed and replaced with dry clothing. They should be wrapped in many layers of blankets, covering from head to toe but keeping the face uncovered. If medical help is not there within 30 minutes, give them warm, sweetened drinks (no alcohol) and heating packs to help increase their internal temperature.
Cold Stress Safety Tips for Workers
For those in the snow removal industry, it’s almost impossible to avoid working in cold environments. In order to keep employees safe, we’ve put together a few snow removal safety practices to prevent cold stress and minimize potential risk.
The most essential snow removal safety tips for workers:
- Limit the amount of time spent outside on extremely cold days. Take regular breaks in warm areas.
- Dress appropriately for the weather
- Be aware that some clothing can restrict movement and lead to potentially dangerous situations.
- Wear many layers of loose clothing to allow for good blood circulation, to provide better insulation, and to allow for fluctuations in temperature and conditions.
- Protect commonly affected areas — ears, face, hands, and feet.
- As a lot of body heat is lost through the head, be sure to wear a hat to keep the whole body warm and to protect the ears.
- Wear boots that are insulated and waterproof to avoid trench foot and frostbite.
- Carry necessary cold-weather gear and supplies, including:
- A first aid kit with a thermometer and chemical hot packs.
- Extra socks, gloves, hats, jackets, and a change of clothes.
- Extra blankets and a thermos of hot liquid.
- Monitor your and your employees' or coworkers' physical condition.
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Knowing how to prepare yourself and your employees best while following these safety guidelines for snow removal will ensure a safer working environment for everyone. Keep in mind that one significant way to reduce the amount of time employees spend outside where they are at risk of cold stress and other injuries is with a high-quality and efficient de-icer.
Contact Ninja De-Icer to learn more about how we can help your business stay safe this winter.