Winter Preparedness

Now that winter has returned, there are two things we can count on: there will be snow and there will be ice, and with snow and ice comes potential slips, trips, and falls. Slips, trips, and falls is the number one cause of workers’ compensations claims for the CSD Pool. It might seem like an inevitable situation, especially in winter, but it can be prevented. However, prevention does not happen overnight. It takes planning, long before the snow hits, and requires continued tweaking throughout the winter. This planning process is the foundation of your district’s winter plan. Just like anything else you want to be successful, you must have a plan.

What is a winter plan? In a nutshell, it is your winter safety manual. A winter plan takes into account seasonal risks and then mitigates those risks. It should include topics such as where to pile snow in parking lots, the high risk areas that need to be shoveled and melted down first, and whose responsibility it is to shovel the snow. Additionally, your district’s winter plan should also cover seasonal protective clothing and survival kits for employees as required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. (1)

It’s not enough that we need to remove snow, we also have to drive in it. If district vehicles aren’t ready for winter, there could be tremendous risk to district drivers and property. Your plan will ideally identify gear every vehicle should have such as chains, ice scrapers, and a good set of snow tires. Also, you may want to consider incorporating winter training as a part of your winter plan.

Topics may include items like winter driving techniques, the procedure for car accidents, and your point of contact for incident reporting. Adequate preparation for extreme weather conditions is also a key topic worth exploring. Something as seemingly simple as dressing warmly for winter is a very involved and important process. For example, do your district employees know to avoid cotton and goose-down materials because they do a poor job of retaining heat when wet? Or, how loose-fitting clothes are more conducive towards trapping heat?

In Colorado, we could wake up at anytime to snow on the ground. Do you know who is supposed to ensure that your employees and visitors have a clear path into the building so that no one slips and falls? On top of assigning responsibilities, you should have priority areas to be cleared. This should include sidewalks and walkways leading to the employee parking lot. You should know which areas are the busiest in the morning, and then the areas that tend to attract more foot traffic as the day progresses.

Another issue to take into account is our work areas. If a district’s employees predominantly work outside, it should prioritize clearing snow and putting down ice melt or sand to avoid slippage. Keep an eye on inside areas as well. As snow gets tracked inside the building and melts, additional slipping hazards can be left behind. Consider using disposable shoe covers whenever coming inside after walking on snowy and wet surfaces to avoid wet floors.

For districts that have employees that might work in a location briefly to check on something before making their way to another location, it doesn’t always make sense to clear all of the snow away, but we still need to have a plan to make sure employees are safe. This could include alternative flooring or certain kinds of mats that minimize wet floor hazards. Keeping track of the weather is another important measure; freak snowstorms can imperil your employees out in the field or in transit. In the event of a sudden storm, all district vehicles should be equipped with emergency kits containing the following items:

  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Non-perishable food
  • Water container
  • Compass and road maps
  • Shovel
  • Knife
  • Tool kit
  • Tow rope
  • Universal cell phone chargers

Foot traction aids are also very helpful. Usually attached to a rubber sling or strap that slides or stretches over the boot, the traction aid has an aggressive grip on the bottom designed to work on all manner of terrain and icy surfaces. We suggest the Yaktrax Diamond Grip Traction system, but there are many options.

Having a well thought-out winter plan can help eliminate a lot of the stress that comes with the winter season. It is an efficient way to look at your seasonal risks and address it before a snow event. Everyone will know your expectations while working in the snow as well as each employee’s responsibility for reducing snow exposure. Having a solid winter plan that addresses seasonal expectations, operating in the snow, and assigning responsibilities will help keep your employees and visitors safe when walking and working outside.

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