Working Outside During Winter is (S)no Fun

Those who work outdoors face some tough sledding, if you would please pardon the expression. The average low temperature for Indiana is 21 in January and 24 in February, with an average snowfall of 15 inches statewide. As these are averages, the weather can easily be much colder, icier, or snowier. On January 19, 1994, Indiana set a record cold mark of 36 below zero in New Whiteland. The record for the snowiest winter occurred recently, with 51. 6 inches falling from December through February during the winter of 2013-2014.

We at McNeely Stephenson realize working outside during winter is no laughing matter. So do the people at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), who have come up with specific regulations related to the risks of working outdoors in winter. Snow removal is one maintenance activity that is regulated by OSHA, as is removing snow on construction sites, both commercial and residential, if that removal is necessary to beginning or continuing working.

OSHA Recommendations

Snow removal precautions include checking snow-covered surfaces for structural soundness, keeping workers off roofs where at all possible, and using fall protection equipment. Additionally, OSHA recommends the following safety practices:

  • Do not use powered equipment near the edges of roofs.
  • Keep hands away from openings, chutes, or augurs on powered snow removal equipment.
  • Keep at least 10 feet away from power lines.
  • Ensure that all electrically-powered devices are grounded.
  • Always follow lockout/tagout procedures.

If you are shoveling snow by hand, remember that you are engaging in strenuous activity that strains your entire body. You are vulnerable to dehydration, back injuries, and heart attacks, especially if you are out of shape, suffer from diabetes or heart disease, or are older.

What Additional Dangers to Outdoor Workers Does Winter Pose?

Anytime you are working outside under adverse conditions, especially if surfaces are slippery, you need to take care. For example, to prevent slips and falls, a top ten cause of workplace injury, clear away snow and ice from walking areas, using salting chemicals if needed. Also, wear footwear that grips snow and ice, and take shorter steps while walking more slowly if you are traveling over slippery surfaces.

Other hazards of working outside in winter include:

  • Lacerations and severe injuries from powered equipment, especially snow blowers. Never clear a clogged augur with your hands.
  • If you are working vigorously outdoors, you may not be conscious of sweating, as sweat evaporates more quickly in dry, cold air. Additionally, breathing in drier air contributes to your body’s dehydration. Drink water or other non-alcoholic liquids frequently to stay hydrated.
  • Hypothermia and frostbite. Frostbite can affect uncovered or insufficiently-protected extremities. Fingers and toes are most at risk, as are your ears, nose, and face in general. Keep all parts of your body as warm and dry as possible, and wear a face mask, scarf, and hat. To help ward off hypothermia, wear sufficient clothing, drink warm, non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages, and eat hot, higher-calorie foods. Hypothermia occurs faster in wet conditions than in dry ones, so exchange wet clothing for dry as soon as possible. Take frequent breaks inside warm, protected areas when the weather is extremely cold and wind chill temperatures are hazardous.
  • Work zones. While in work zones on or near roadways, remain alert for motorists who may skid or not be able to stop in adverse conditions.
  • Being stranded in a vehicle. If you are stranded, stay inside except for keeping the exhaust pipe clear of snow. It’s easy to become dangerously disoriented in a snowstorm, so do not stray from your vehicle unless help is clearly visible. Call for emergency assistance and also notify your supervisor of the situation. Display a bright cloth and raise the hood to alert others of your situation. You can run the engine to help stay warm, but only for a few minutes every hour because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Move frequently inside the vehicle and do your best to stay awake.

When something goes wrong, we are left to wonder.

State and federal agencies have strict guidelines and regulations to keep workers safe while they are doing their jobs. In some cases, employers might ignore these regulations or fail to ensure they are properly followed. In such a situation, a case can sometimes be made for negligence. Where machines or equipment are involved, there can also be questions of malfunctions because of manufacturer’s defects or improper maintenance.

With over 30 years’ experience handling workplace injury claims in Indiana, let McNeely Stephenson put their resources to work for you. You may be eligible for compensation to assist you with medical bills and other financial obligations. If you would like to explore your options, contact Mike Stephenson at 1-317-825-5200, or use our online form. The initial consultation is always free.