Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful! 4 Tips to Keep Employees Feeling Delightful this Winter

December 8, 2022 | Activate Learning | 5 min read

Baby, it’s cold outside. And while winter is the best season to get cozy with a mug of cocoa by a roaring fire, the reality is that many people work 40+ hours per week in freezing temperatures. Consider this:

  • Nearly 70% of the U.S. population lives in snowy regions
  • According to the CDC, about 1,200 people die per year due to extreme cold stress

Employees working in frigid conditions can experience cold injuries ranging from frostnip to hypothermia. These types of injuries are dangerous to workers, but cold temperatures may also cause numbness in the hands that can lead to workplace accidents – if, for example, a worker loses their grip on a tool or control of heavy machinery. To learn more about the risk factors and symptoms of cold stress, Skillsoft offers a microlearning course, Cold Stress Impact: Symptoms.

Who is at risk? Depending on the time of year, geography, and industry, workers in construction, road work, agriculture, landscaping, and other outdoor occupations may be at an increased risk. Additionally, jobs like truck drivers, Emergency Medical Technicians, and police officers may be unexpectedly exposed to the elements for long periods.

Employers are responsible for keeping employees safe and warm during the winter months. However, employees themselves should also be aware of their risk and take appropriate precautions. Here are some tips to keeping warm at work in the winter.

1. Understand the hazards in your work environment.

With over 1,300 people killed and more than 116,000 injured annually in vehicle crashes during snowfall or sleet, driving to work during the winter can be quite dangerous. Whether it’s getting caught in a blizzard, sliding on black ice, or being stuck in freezing rain, traveling by car in the winter months comes with risks to take into consideration regarding employee safety and wellbeing. Drivers should always remember to check their tire pressure before getting in the car, increase their following distance, and drive at slower speeds when in dangerous winter weather conditions.

Check out a few of our driving courses to learn more about the safety measures you can take.

As the sun sets earlier in many parts of the world during the winter months, ensuring areas are well-lit and clearly marked is an important step to keep employees safe. Along with this, make sure you have proper snow removal and de-icing products along with slip-resistant footwear. In the winter, snow and ice are hazards that we must be equipped for at all times, and ensuring you are wearing the proper footwear and have the proper equipment readily accessible will ensure you are safe from preventable injuries.

Check out our guide on the dangers of working in extreme temperatures to learn more about how to best manage cold exposure and extreme temperatures

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2. Ensure all employees are thoroughly trained – including site-specific training.

All employees and supervisors should be provided with the general knowledge and training they need to recognize the hazards, risk factors, symptoms, first-aid treatment, and prevention options for temperature stress — and to know what to do when they identify symptoms in themselves or others. However, training should not end here.

Site-specific training is also crucial as it outlines the administrative controls put in place for an individual workplace — including acclimation schedules, work duration between breaks, hydration requirements, and instructions on where to find water, warming areas, and other support. Workers most at risk for accidents are people working outside in the cold, particularly in the snow, although cold or wet indoor environments can also lead to cold-related hazards.

Symptoms can sometimes be alleviated by taking an affected individual to a warm location or by removing wet clothing, but severe exposure can require emergency medical attention. For more specifics, Skillsoft offers these micro learning courses:

Check out our Cold Stress course for comprehensive guidance and information on risk factors, symptoms, and treatments, and how to prevent cold stress injuries and fatalities.

3. Set your workers up for success by building the workday around the weather.

While no one can control the weather, we can control when employees work in it. Monitor workers’ physical conditions, schedule work during the warmest part of the day, provide warm beverages, and add radiant heaters to work areas. Accommodate workers with frequent opportunities to warm up, whether that means having a warming area outside or an indoor area accessible for employees. If you typically have workers outside in the early morning or late evening and are not able to change this, these precautions are especially crucial to prevent symptoms of cold stress like frostbite and hypothermia that could cause irreversible damage to employees like numbness, damaged skin, sensitivity to extreme temperatures, discoloration of skin, problems with hair and nail growth, and more.

4. Prepare for emergency situations.

Every year, we know hundreds of people suffer from injuries or die from winter weather. Whether it’s a power outage or a blizzard, preparation is key. Creating an emergency response plan for potential winter weather hazards like snow or ice storms is imperative to keeping all employees safe at all times. Your plans should be clearly documented with concise instructions and steps that should be taken to keep everyone safe in these unpredictable situations.

Consider purchasing more generators, designating employees to help carry out emergency plans if they are needed, and ensure your facilities are always up to code and getting the care they need to run properly. If you have not yet come up with a winter strategy to ensure your employees are safe and protected from the outside elements, now is the time to get started and get your employees trained for the winter months ahead.

By recognizing the hazards, employees and employers can then work together to identify ways to protect workers from the harm of winter weather. By doing so you are signaling to your employees that they are your first priority. In turn, they will feel more appreciated and taken care of by the organization, leading them to want to help others to feel the same.

So, while you’re sitting inside by the fire this winter to stay warm, remember to get the chimney inspected and to open the damper. If you need, check out our course on fire safety to make sure you keep you and your loved ones safe this winter.