As Snow Storm Hits Washington, Workers Take Precautions

Seattle Snow StormWith weather forecasters predicting one of the biggest Seattle snow storms in recent years to arrive tomorrow, workers and employers should prepare to take full precautions to ensure winter safety. The U.S. Department of Labor has created a new page on the website for its Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to help protect workers from potential hazards that come with winter storm response and recovery operations.

Visit OSHA’s Winter Storms Web page.

During winter months, employees who work in snow storms experience increased rates of injuries, as shown by increased L&I claims during these extreme conditions. OSHA’s new online tool offers tips and guidelines for how Washington employers and workers engaged in clean-up and recovery operations can identify hazards inherent in snow storm conditions, and take necessary steps to ensure worker safety while carrying out their jobs in wintry conditions. The webpage includes best practices and directions for workers whose activities may lead them to clear heavy snow around workplaces or from rooftops; encounter downed power lines; travel on slick or icy roads; or restore power after storms.

Hazards related to work in winter storm conditions include:

  • Workers being struck by falling objects (icicles, tree limbs, utility poles, etc)
  • Vehicle accidents on icy roadways
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Dehydration, hypothermia or frostbite
  • Exhaustion from overexertion
  • Back injuries – or even heart attacks – while removing snow
  • Slips & falls on slippery walkways
  • Electrocution from downed power lines and objects in contact with them
  • Burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure
  • Falls from rooftop snow removal, or while working on aerial lifts or ladders
  • Roof collapse under excess snow weight
  • Injuries from improperly operated chain saws and power tools, or from improperly attempting to clear jams in snow blowers

In response to these winter hazards and the work-related injuries that often occur in such condition, OSHA details the most effective measures for minimizing winter storm hazards. These include:

  • Approaching all power lines as if they were energized, and staying completely clear of downed or damaged power lines
  • Ensuring all powered equipment is properly guarded and disconnected from power sources before cleaning or performing maintenance
  • Using extremely caution on and around surfaces that are weighed down by snow or ice
  • Shoveling only moderate to small amounts of snow at a time, and using appropriate lifting form to avoid back injuries
  • Keeping walking surfaces clear of snow and ice; use salt where appropriate
  • Employers should provide and ensure the use of fall protection measures, and maintain ladders in good working condition
  • Remaining in one’s vehicle in the case of roadway emergency. Occupants should not leave a vehicle unless help is visible within 100 yards
  • Wearing reflective uniforms or clothing, as well as face and body protection
  • Clearly marking work zones
  • Using engineering controls, personal protective equipment and safe work practices to minimize the length of exposure to cold.

The new Winter Storms Web page provides links to OSHA guidelines, as well as advice from Federal Emergency Management Agency, the American Red Cross, the National Weather Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Safety Council and other relevant organizations.

As OSHA explains on its website: “Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit http://www.osha.gov.”

Emery Reddy