Avoid Getting Snowed Under by the Polar Vortex | DCR Workforce Blog

Avoid Getting Snowed Under by the Polar Vortex

Dazzling images of the frozen in mid-air Niagara Falls are making people around the world exclaim in amazement and horror ‘Move over Princess Elsa! The Polar Vortex is here!’ Like other forces of nature, winter could kill too, with its ice and snow. Not just when we are driving, but in many other ways. With North America coming under the spell of chilly weather, there is no time like now to wake up and put in the necessary precautions, not just at homes but also workplaces.

Polar Vertex

Image Courtesy: National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration

Workplace safety is the responsibility of employers. Employers have a duty to protect and train their workers on the hazards of the job and safety measures to use, such as engineering controls and safe work practices. It is no different for staffing buyers who have their contingent labor and non-employees performing work at the workplace. So everyone needs to be alert to possible unsafe work conditions which may present themselves in unforeseen and unexpected ways, with bitter cold, whiplash winds, frost, ice and snow, across North America – while Europe is bracing up to face temperatures 20 degrees below normal.

Workers engaged on snow cleanup, sanitation work, construction, policing, emergency response and recovery personnel and emergency medical technicians have to go out in the open and face the brunt of the cold weather. When the internal body temperature (core temperature) is reduced drastically, the workers may face serious health problems, suffer tissue damage, and possibly die. Let us look at the precautions and safeguards required for various scenarios involving workers in the cold outdoors:

  • Physical work, like shoveling snow, could prove strenuous and tax the body physically. Results could be back injuries, dehydration, exhaustion or a heart attack.
    • Warm up before starting work.
    • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
    • Drink fluids a lot.
    • Take frequent breaks.
    • Avoid lifting heavy weights.
    • Maintain correct posture when lifting weights.
  • When the workers are expected to walk on snow and ice, it is necessary to put some precautions in place.
    • Clear the surfaces of snow and ice. Use salt.
    • Provide sunglasses and insulated boots with good treads and not slippery.
    • Make them walk against traffic and as close to the curb as possible.
    • In low lighting, provide reflective gear and/or bright clothing.
  • When snow piles up on the roof, the additional weight of the piled up snow makes some standard precautions necessary.
    • Risk of slipping and falling from such heights.
    • Risk of the structure collapsing from the additional weight.
    • Other unexpected hazards.
  • Even without snow, working in extremely cold weather could pose risks.
    • Cold weather could induce cold stress, hypothermia and frostbite.
    • Ensure that workers are dressed in layers, introduced to the cold gradually and slowly, kept away from alcohol, hydrated and have first aid at hand, in case of an emergency.
    • Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change.
  • When clearing snow, workers could be injured by:
    • Climbing ladders without using a body harness or restraining belt.
    • Falling from ladders in the absence of guard rails or when using snow-blowers, snow rakes, shovels, aerial lifts and other equipment because they were not trained adequately in their safe use.
    • Being exposed to electrical hazard from damaged power cords or contact with power lines.
    • Falling under snow drifts or snow piles.
    • Being hit by snow in the face and losing eyes.

Remember that most, if not all, injuries and fatalities can be prevented with the right precautions and by providing immediate emergency care. If in doubt, an employer could seek the necessary guidance from the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), for the identification of possible hazards and for on-site compliance assistance.

It is high time you asked yourself if you are prepared to face the vagaries of the weather with a reasonable amount of confidence! Have you?

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.