North America faced the lowest temperatures in decades, affecting 190 million people. Some parts of the Midwest hit -14F, with Hell, Michigan freezing over at -1F while Embarrass in Minnesota recorded temperatures which proved it was colder than on Mars. The states of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York experienced record-breaking low temperatures.
Many unpleasant situations were faced by individuals, companies and even school children across the country as a consequence of the bad weather conditions across the country; with temperatures reaching unprecedented lows and cities across the country facing impassable roads that were buried under snow which they were unequipped to remove and water supplies frozen inside the pipes.
The Polar Vortex is being blamed for a lot of things like the missed office hours and the consequent effect on productivity; more than 49000 canceled flights; the decline in manufacturing and retail sales; a $35 billion increase in heating bills; and lower revenues from agriculture. As life goes on, and spring comes in, everyone hopes these setbacks will be forgotten as activities pick up and projects are attacked with renewed zeal.
But as long as winter lasts, employers will be on a metaphorical slippery ground if they allow the possibility of their employees facing slippery conditions at the workplace. , Medical centers across the country are reporting spikes in the number of weather-related visits to the emergency room. Falling on untreated walkways or skidding on improperly plowed parking lots will directly translate into litigation and increases in worker’s compensation costs.
While slips and falls during winter are just one aspect of possible causes of workplace injuries, the nature of work and the possibility of injury must be evaluated by employers on a case by case basis as they schedule workers and their daily tasks. Use of protective equipment is also important, while providing sufficient breaks and monitoring the workers for symptoms of cold stress and other symptoms.
Both the National Labor and Employment Act (NLRA) and The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) give employees the right to refuse unsafe work and the right to be free from retaliation from employers, if they complain.
It is not possible to visualize the various ways in which an employer could imperil a worker’s safety, but in all cases employers had better evaluate possible hazards and adopt measures to protect their workers, especially in these unprecedented weather conditions, which many have never experienced before.
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