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Employers Have an Obligation to Keep Outdoor Winter Workers Warm

Jason Reese
  • When Indiana temperatures drop to 10 degrees Fahrenheit or below, it can quickly become a potentially hazardous time for outdoor workers.
  • A worker’s body will naturally work hard to keep itself warm, but over time will become vulnerable. For workers who are not protected from extreme cold or know how to recognize it, they may feel the effects of cold stress.
  • Employers have a responsibility to recognize cold-weather hazards and keep employees safe from stresses related to freezing temperatures, wind chills, and hypothermia.
  • Maintaining a safe working environment and ensuring equipment is working properly during cold weather are responsibilities for Indiana employers as well.
  • In addition, if a worker knows they will be out in adverse weather conditions for any length of time, there are a few things they can do to protect their body from cold stress.
  • If an employer is not helpful in maintaining a safe working environment during cold-weather months, workers may be at an increased risk for injury and should report unsafe working conditions to IOSHA, without fear of retaliation.

How to Prevent Workplace Injuries and Illnesses During Winter Weather

Even spending a few minutes exposed to Indiana’s freezing temperatures, winter winds and ice-cold rains will increase injury risks and cold-weather related illnesses for workers who have a job which requires them to be exposed to those outdoor elements. Many of these workers just aren’t able to avoid the conditions though. Emergency response workers, police officers, city workers or those employed in technical jobs that may require outdoor working hours, face several challenges to maintaining their weather-related safety on the job especially when their employer has not made it a priority. The work injury attorneys at Wagner Reese have pulled together several useful lists to help both workers and employers become more aware of cold-weather related injuries and how to prevent them. Please share these tips with the outdoor workers in your life. If you are a worker, share them with your manager and boss.

Winter Safety Tips for Indiana’s Outdoor Workers

Cold stresses like hypothermia can present dangerous injury risks and greater risk of illnesses. Even the beginning stages of hypothermia, when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees, can give a worker the similar coordination of an intoxicated person. If you know you will be working in adverse weather conditions for any length of time, here are a few things you can do to protect your body from cold stress:

  • Dress in several loose-fitting layers. Layering your clothing (with loose-fitting items) allows more air to be trapped around your body, holding in more heat. It also allows you to add/remove clothing as the temperature changes, or if some layers become wet.
  • Have at least one layer of waterproof clothing. Make sure that among your loose-fitting layers, there are waterproof items to protect your skin and protect at least some of your other clothing from getting wet.
  • Take breaks to get warm. If you have a shelter to visit, do so frequently. Your body will work hard to warm itself – especially if you are exerting yourself physically – but give your system a break and recharge somewhere warm. If you can, go indoors for a few minutes or at least get out of the wind/rain/snow.
  • Stay hydrated. It is important, no matter how cold it is, to keep your body hydrated. Studies have shown that our bodies lose a substantial amount of fluids during the cold weather, mostly due to respiratory fluid loss through breathing. You are actually more likely to become dehydrated while being active in the winter, than you are while being active in the summer.

Workers should also be trained on how to identify the early warning signs of cold stress as well as be supported by employers who:

  • Monitor workers for signs of cold stress. This is especially true for new workers who may not be used to working in the cold, or workers returning after spending some time away from work.
  • Combat the cold. Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters to keep workers warm.
  • Schedule accordingly. Push outdoor work hours into the warmest part of the day.
  • Double-up for safety. Assign employees to work in pairs (if possible) and implement a means of communicating with workers in remote areas.
  • Designate warming areas. Schedule breaks and emergency needs in warm areas, out of the elements.

If your employer is not helpful in maintaining a safe working environment during cold-weather months, you may be at an increased risk for injury. If you witness unsafe working conditions, Indiana’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (IOSHA) has a safe hotline you can call to report unsafe working conditions, without any repercussions on yourself.

Employers Should Take These Extra Cold Weather Safety Precautions

IOSHA wants employers to pay special attention to outdoor workers during the winter months so they can minimize their exposure risk to the elements and plan how to safely do the work. And although IOSHA may not yet have specific requirements for cold weather work, the organization does provide several suggestions on how employers can keep their workers protected from injury and sickness during the winter months.

  • Drivers should never be forced to operate a vehicle through unstable terrain or conditions that would make it difficult to navigate or travel the roadways.
  • Keep all walkways cleared of ice and snow.
  • Have de-icing products handy for hard-to-remove ice or snow.
  • Make sure all walkways and passageways are clearly marked and well-lit.
  • Require workers to wear slip-resistant footwear.
  • Inform workers of safe practices for walking on slippery surfaces.
  • Equipment should undergo regular inspections and maintenance.
  • Work zones should be adequately lit and have appropriate warning signs:
  • Never allow workers to carry heavy loads that may offset balance.
  • Clearly mark or barricade hazardous areas.
  • Workers operating from heights must have safety restraints, as well as the ability to move around safely without encountering snow and ice.
  • Promote flu shots for employees, encourage proper hand-washing and respiratory hygiene practices and educate workers on the symptoms of the flu.
  • Offer eyewear to lessen winter glare while driving. Employers do not have to provide clothing for exposure to cold weather.
  • Know the symptoms of cold stresses and the first aid steps to address it.

While we are hopeful that more employers are following the IOSHA’s educational prevention programs to help reduce weather related incidents for their workers, a number of worksite injuries and accidents still occur too often due to cold environments.

Keeping Indiana Workers Warm

If you have been injured on the job because of an employer’s lack of providing a safe and healthful workplace during extreme cold or in a risky environment, the attorneys at Wagner Reese can help you. Give us a call today at (888) 204-8440 to schedule a free consultation or speak with us by submitting our online form and our attorneys will review your information.

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