Wintertime can be magical -- but it can also be incredibly dangerous. That's especially true if your workplace isn't taking proper precautions. While low compensation and contract loopholes are two of the main reasons that almost 50% of physicians leave their employers, there are countless others across a variety of industries that might be tempted to leave their jobs due to unsafe work conditions. But even if you feel your workplace is generally safe, winter conditions could make things take a hazardous turn.
Unless you're fine with safety risks and potentially having yours be among the 15 million lawsuits filed each year, it's a good idea to be proactive. Whether you're looking to improve your own safety or you want to inspire your employer to take widespread action, here are a few ways you can potentially avoid injuries at work this winter.
Ensure Walkways Are Clear and Dry
While over 20,000 workplace slip-and-fall injuries were reported in California during 2015, it's likely that those numbers would be even higher if inclement weather played a role. Sidewalks, parking areas, and interior hallways that are covered with snow, water, and ice are inherently dangerous for you and everyone else on-site. It's important that these areas are cleared thoroughly following a snowfall or storm to minimize the risk of accidents. This may require employers to invest in professional snow removal (or to take on this responsibility themselves) to guarantee a safe work environment. Ice-melting salt should also be used regularly to provide traction and to reduce slippery surfaces. To minimize water and dirt indoors, mats should be used and floors should be cleaned; caution signs can also be used both indoors and out to raise awareness pertaining to slippery surfaces.
Prevent Prolonged Exposure to Cold
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can quickly turn dire, as it doesn't take much to develop frostbite or hypothermia. As an employee, you should wear layers to work during the winter; even if you don't work much outdoors, this can allow you to be more comfortable when you're inside. If you do need to work outdoors, be sure to wear a warm coat, hat, gloves, and thick socks to protect yourself. You should also learn to recognize the signs of hypothermia and frostbite (which can include uncontrollable shivering or shaking, confusion, numbness, stiffness, drowsiness, or poor coordination). If you or a coworker starts to exhibit these signs, move indoors and call for medical attention right away.
Always Wear Proper Footwear
Wearing the wrong shoes can easily lead to slip-and-fall incidents. Not only should your footwear be warm and waterproof, but it should also provide proper traction during inclement weather. Be sure to wear non-slip winter boots, as well as gear like googles and reflective vests, to minimize risks when working out in the cold. Even if you work in an office, you should wear non-slip winter footwear any time you need to commute to work. This can ensure you won't take a tumble in the parking lot.
Minimize Employee Driving Requirements
Wintertime driving can be challenging in many parts of the country. However, many employers are still allowing for remote work, at least on a part-time basis, during the pandemic. It may be worth revisiting your employer's work-from-home policy in order to minimize the risks associated with your daily commute. If it's clear that the job can be done just as well from the safety of your home, this could be an issue worth fighting for this winter. And if you have to drive for work while you're on the clock, make sure to slow down, reduce risk-taking behavior, and have your car or work equipment checked for proper maintenance. The last thing you need is to get in a car accident while you're on the job. Make sure that only trained and trusted employees are being asked to take on these duties, as well. If you're short-staffed, asking an inexperienced employee to take on this responsibility can be a potentially fatal decision.
Encourage Frequent Breaks and Hydration
Working in colder conditions can put a strain on the body, particularly for those who have pre-existing or underlying health conditions. If your team will be doing taxing physical work outdoors this winter, encourage everyone to take frequent breaks in order to stay safe. And no matter where you work, you must remember to hydrate during the workday this winter. While we put an emphasis on hydrating during the summer months, the dry air of winter actually makes it just as important to up your H2O intake during this season. Be sure to bring a large, reusable bottle of water with you to work and ask your employer about providing clean and easy-to-access water for staff throughout the day to prevent dehydration.
Although some accidents can still occur, prevention is worth a pound of cure. By taking the steps to avoid wintertime injuries at work, you can keep yourself and your coworkers safe no matter what the weather will bring.