Your team’s well-being is a top priority year-round, but it requires special measures to handle the unique safety challenges winter can bring. In order to be fully prepared, take the time to understand the jobsite hazards that can occur during winter.
Protect Against Cold Stress
One of the biggest threats to crews working outdoors during winter is cold stress. Cold stress can happen whenever extreme cold forces the body to work extra hard to maintain a healthy core temperature. The definition of “extreme cold” varies depending on geography. The thermometer doesn’t have to be at or below freezing for people working in areas not used to lower temperatures to experience cold stress. The most common cold-induced illnesses or injuries are hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot.
Keep in mind that temperature isn’t the only factor to consider when assessing dangerously cold outdoor working conditions. Wind chill is the effect on exposed skin when the air temperature and wind speed are combined. That means that while the air temperature may be 40°F, when the wind speed is 35 mph, it feels like 28°F.
Be aware of these cold stress risk factors for your team:
- Improper clothing
- Health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes
- Poor physical fitness
Consider incorporating these winter-time measures into your workplace health and safety plan:
- Train your crew: Employers should train workers on how to prevent and recognize cold stress and how to administer first aid treatment. Workers should be educated about appropriate preventive measures, protective equipment and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress.
- Protect against the elements: Consider using radiant heaters to keep workers warm and, if possible, shield work areas from drafts or wind.
- Use safe work practices: Provide plenty of water and warm sweetened liquids to prevent dehydration. Try to schedule heavy work during warmer times of the day. Assign workers to tasks in pairs so that they can monitor each other for signs of cold stress. Allow crews to take breaks to dry off and warm up periodically. Consider following a work schedule that takes into consideration various temperatures and wind chill factors. OSHA provides this example schedule for a four-hour shift. Gradually increase workload for new staff or those returning to work.
Winterize Your Modular Space
A modular unit can serve as a warm and efficient work space for your employees, vendors and customers when it’s cold outside. But your workers aren’t the only ones at risk in frigid weather. Take steps to prepare and maintain your modular unit so it can stay in optimum condition throughout the season:
- Inspect the exterior: Look for air leaks, holes or other exterior damage. Any problems should be addressed before severe weather hits.
- Add skirting: As temperatures drop, consider adding products that optimize the performance of your unit. Skirting can reduce the risk of damage caused by severe weather. It also keeps moisture levels and temperatures under control so that your modular unit stays at a consistent temperature and you spend less on costs to keep it warm when it’s cold outside.
- Install baseboard heaters: Use baseboard heaters to provide additional heat and to control the internal heat of your modular space. They should be considered particularly if you are located in an area that experiences below-freezing temperatures for the duration of the winter season.
- Remove debris and snow: When forecasts call for abnormal levels of snowfall, it is important to pay attention to building roofs and their support members. Clear as much debris, snow and ice as possible from the roof of your unit. Not only are flat roofs more vulnerable to collapse under the weight of snow and ice, but debris in gutters and downpipes may also prevent natural drainage and block venting.
- Check all seams and trim coverage: Inspect and repair roof seams and caulking around windows and doors to prevent cold air and water seepage.
- Support the rear of the unit: Making sure the hitch and back section of the unit is supported will keep the wall covering and siding from cracking and warping in freezing temperatures. It will also help keep door and window openings plumb.
- Take additional steps during idle times: If you won’t be using the unit at all during the winter, drain any water lines and water heaters, shut off the breaker and fill waste traps with anti-freeze.
Here are some more helpful links to keep you prepared and informed during winter weather:
- The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) winter safety website: https://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/winter_weather/
- National Weather Service’s Daily Briefing website that provides info on weather forecasts: http://www.weather.gov/briefing/
- NOAA Weather Radio, a network of radio stations that continuously broadcast weather information from the nearest National Weather Service office: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/