In Pennsylvania and across much of the country, winter weather conditions can pose serious risks to workers on the job. Extremely cold temperatures and the accumulation of snow and ice on roads and sidewalks create hazards for employees attempting to perform their job duties. During such weather, it is critical for both employers and employees to be aware of the risks and measures that can be taken to prevent serious injury or illness.
During dangerous winter weather conditions, the National Weather Service reports that approximately 70 percent of all injuries are caused by motor vehicle accidents. In addition, another approximately 25 percent of injuries during such weather occurs when people are stuck outside during the storm.
Common hazards for employees during the winter
As many of the injuries caused by winter storms are the result of auto accidents, it stands to reason that some of the workers most at risk during severe winter weather are those who are required to drive to perform their job responsibilities. For instance, firefighters, emergency medical workers and truck drivers are not able to put their job duties on hold when dangerous weather strikes.
Consequently, it is critical for people in such positions to be aware of the potential hazards when driving during winter storms. When driving, motorists must be aware of their surroundings, paying particular attention to snow and ice on the road and vehicles quickly stopping in front of them. When drivers are stuck in their vehicles during a storm, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration advises them to remain in their vehicle, keeping it running for approximately 10 minutes every hour they are stranded to stay warm. OSHA also cautions drivers to ensure their exhaust pipe is clear, as a buildup of snow could pose deadly due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
In addition to dangers on the road, employees who must perform their duties outside can be affected by extremely cold temperatures, if not properly protected from the elements. The actual temperature is not the only cause for concern during the winter months. Even if the temperature outside is not terribly cold, other factors – such as wind speed and contact with water – can make the temperature feel even colder.
Workers who must perform their duties in cold temperatures run the risk of experiencing frostbite or hypothermia. OSHA encourages workers to wear appropriate clothing when working in cold temperatures – with a minimum of three layers recommended. In addition, as many workers quickly become dehydrated when working in such conditions, it is advisable to take breaks and drink water.
Employees working outside during the winter must also be careful to avoid slips and falls, both on sidewalks and when working from heights.
When a worker sustains an injury while on the job during the winter, he or she may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Consulting with a skilled, Pennsylvania workers’ compensation attorney will ensure his or her rights are protected.