While many of us can opt to stay home when winter weather comes to Missouri, some workers in our state aren't so lucky. Utility workers, emergency responders, highway workers, federal, state and local government personnel, and other employees may find themselves on-the-job - whether they like it or not - in wintry conditions. In fact, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are a number of particularly dangerous workplace hazards that can present themselves in winter conditions. In this post, our workers' comp lawyers detail a few of the most common situations that lead to workplace injuries in winter weather - and recommend a few proactive safety strategies.
Workplace injuries in winter weather: Three common scenarios
• Auto accidents due to poor road conditions. Many injuries that occur during winter storms are the result of motor vehicle accidents. If your job requires you to drive in winter weather, OSHA officials encourage you to be prepared. Check road and weather conditions before you get behind the wheel - that way, you can plan the safest possible route, and you won't be distracted while you're already trying to deal with slick roads. (You can use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio or website; and the Missouri Department of Transportation also provides up-to-date road condition information.)
In addition, be sure to winterize your vehicle by having its key systems checked, especially your brakes and your tires. Also, it's wise to carry an emergency kit containing essential supplies, just in case you become stranded. You might include items like blankets, an ice scraper, a shovel, flashlights (with spare batteries), jumper cables, non-perishable food, water, etc.
• "Cold stress": Frostbite and/or hypothermia from cold weather exposure. Approximately 20% of winter workplace injuries are caused by prolonged exposure to the elements. The term frostbite refers to freezing in deep layers of skin and tissue caused by the cold. Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the affected areas, or a waxy-white or pale appearance in the fingers, toes, nose or ear lobes. Hypothermia, which occurs when an individual's body temperature drops below 95 degrees, can also produce a number of symptoms, including uncontrollable shivering, slowed speech, lapses in memory, stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion.
Workers are encouraged to learn the signs and symptoms of these conditions so they can be quickly recognized; to dress appropriately for outdoor work; and to take regular breaks in a warm, dry environment. Learn more by clicking here.
• Slips and falls on slippery walkways and surfaces. Snow and ice are two of the most common catalysts for slip and fall accidents in the workplace. If you're working in wintry conditions, you'll want to make sure you have appropriate footwear. OSHA officials recommend wearing a pair of insulated boots with good rubber tread. When walking on icy or snowy surfaces, be sure to take small steps and walk slowly, just in case you lose traction.