It’s 6 p.m. and the sun is rapidly setting over the snowy white fields where a few dozen of your workers are wrapping up work for the day. They toss the rest of their equipment into the beds of their trucks and start to navigate away from the project site, but one straggler loses control of their vehicle and drives straight into a dense, snowy embankment. Due to the lack of visibility from the snow, none of your other workers notice. Suddenly, you receive a call from the trapped employee. He’s safe, but the heater in his truck is failing and the temperature is rapidly dropping. What should he do?.
This example highlights one potential scenario that can transpire when you fail to plan, equip, and train for winter weather. As soon as your workers step onto the project site, you’re responsible for ensuring that they are equipped with all of the tools and knowledge necessary to perform their jobs and return home safely. In part one of this two-part series, the OSHA defense lawyers at Cotney Construction Law discussed two important aspects of project site safety during frigid weather: winter driving and work zone traffic safety. Now, we will continue to explore important considerations for contractors who want to keep their project site risk-free during this inherently perilous time of year.
Stranded in a Vehicle
If a worker becomes stranded in a vehicle, it’s imperative that they stay in the vehicle to avoid frostbite and hypothermia. During severe weather, emergency response times may be drastically slower than normal, so it’s vital that your workers know what to do if they become stranded, including:
- Notifying their supervisor immediately.
- Only leaving the vehicle if they can spot help within 100 yards to avoid potential disorientation.
- Fixing a piece of brightly colored cloth to the radio antenna and raising the hood to indicate that they are in trouble.
- Turning on the engine for 10 minutes every hour. During this time, they should run the heat to stay warm, and activate the dome light to signal for help.
- Removing any snow from the exhaust pipe to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and opening a downwind window just enough to provide ventilation.
- Maintaining blood circulation by performing minor exercises like clapping their hands and moving their arms and legs around.
- Shifting positions regularly and staying awake. Falling asleep increases susceptibility to cold-related health problems.
- Insulating with blankets, newspapers, maps, and car mats.
- Staying calm and avoiding overexertion.
Preventing Slips and Falls
Many projects will require a team to perform snow removal tasks to prime the structure for additional work. When working on roofs, layers of ice can create slippery surfaces. Without the proper fall prevention measures, workers can fall from dangerous heights in the blink of an eye. Snow buildup also presents the risk of roof collapse, so it’s important that a qualified individual inspects these areas prior to workers accessing them. Opting to use snow removal methods that don’t require roof access can help mitigate injuries. Supplying the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) also goes a long way to prevent injuries. In addition to fall arrest systems, workers should be outfitted with the proper footwear for walking on snow and ice. When working on slippery surfaces, slow and steady wins the race. Short, deliberate steps allow workers to react quickly when the level of traction suddenly shifts.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.