How to Prevent Common Winter Hazards in the Workplace

  • Workplace Health & Safety
Winter driving hazards
Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

Winter weather can bring many unique challenges to the workplace. As the temperatures drop, the colder conditions can create potential hazards for employees, including poor visibility for driving, slip and fall injuries, and seasonal depression and viruses.

By addressing these common winter hazards and implementing preventive measures, employers can create a safer work environment for their staff, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries, and ensuring health and safety compliance in the workplace. 

Slips, trips, and falls

Slip and fall hazards are common during winter months due to the high accumulation of ice and snow on sidewalks, entryways, and parking lots. The wet and slippery conditions increase the risk of individuals slipping, tripping, or losing their balance, leading to injuries ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures. 

How to prevent slip and fall injuries:

  • Regularly inspect and maintain walking surfaces at your workplace.
  • Provide warning signs for wet or slippery floors.
  • Implement proper lighting in all areas.
  • Ensure employees wear appropriate footwear.
  • Keep walkways and entrances clear of ice and snow. 
  • Spread de-icing materials on walkways.
  • Install slip-resistant flooring in areas prone to spills or moisture.
  • Educate employees about the importance of identifying and reporting slip and fall hazards.

Cold Stress

Cold stress refers to the harmful and potentially dangerous effects on the body from exposure to cold temperatures, wind, and wet conditions. It occurs when the body loses heat more quickly than it can produce it, leading to a drop in body temperature. Prolonged exposure to cold stress can cause serious health issues, such as frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold-related illnesses.

How to prevent cold stress: 

  • Provide protective clothing, equipment, gloves, and footwear. 
  • Schedule short breaks in warm areas.
  • Minimize the time employees spend outdoors. 
  • Ensure that employees have access to shelter or warm-up areas.
  • Consider adjusting work practices to reduce exposure to the cold.
  • Educate and train employees to recognize the symptoms of cold stress.
  • Encourage employees to drink warm beverages to maintain hydration.
  • Develop and communicate emergency response plans for cold stress incidents. 

Influenza and viruses

Flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by an influenza A or B virus. It shares some symptoms with the common cold, but flu symptoms are generally more severe. Flu season in Canada usually peaks between November and March. However, flu viruses can circulate year-round, so employers should have proper preventative measures in place no matter the time of the year.

How to prevent the flu in the workplace:

  • Encourage employees to get the flu vaccine.
  • Encourage regular handwashing with soap and water.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace.
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle among your staff to strengthen their immune systems.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, such as door knobs and light switches.
  • Encourage employees to take sick leave when they need to.
  • Encourage employees to self-monitor for flu-like symptoms and provide telehealth services.
  • Develop an emergency response plan to address outbreaks or clusters of flu cases in the workplace.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often referred to as seasonal depression or the winter blues, is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. Typically, it begins and ends at the same time each year, around the fall and winter seasons. Employees suffering from the effects of SAD may show a change in mood and behaviour, such as increased irritability, sadness, low energy levels, or difficulties with concentration.

How to support employees with SAD:

  • Create awareness about SAD and share resources on how to cope with seasonal depression.
  • Consider offering a flexible work schedule that allows employees to maximize exposure to natural light during daylight hours.
  • Create well-lit workspaces in your business that let in natural light during winter months.
  • Offer light therapy (phototherapy) lamps to help employees regulate their circadian rhythms and improve mood.
  • Implement wellness programs that focus on mental health.
  • Promote regular breaks and exercises to prevent employee burnout.
  • Offer your workers Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) that provide mental health resources, counselling, and support services.

Travel and driving hazards

Driving in winter can be hazardous due to a combination of adverse weather conditions such as snowstorms, hail, freezing rain, black ice or low visibility on the roads. For employees travelling to work, the treacherous road conditions can easily cause driving accidents or disruptions in public transit schedules. Under these circumstances, employers should have an inclement weather policy in place to help with employees’ commute.

How an inclement weather policy can help:

  • An inclement weather policy establishes clear communication channels to notify employees about weather conditions, work status, and any changes to the normal work routine. 
  • It outlines the possibility of remote work or telecommuting during severe weather conditions.
  • It allows for flexible work hours to accommodate employees' commutes during times when weather conditions are less severe.
  • An inclement weather policy encourages the use of alternative transportation options, such as public transit or carpooling, when road conditions are unsafe.
  • The policy outlines procedures for emergency business closures or early dismissals due to severe weather events. 
  • The policy communicates how employees will be informed about business closures and what steps they should take in such situations.

Lack of emergency preparedness

A lack of preparedness for winter emergencies can lead to confusion, delays in response, and increased risks to the safety and well-being of employees. Without established protocols, employers may be at a loss when they need to make critical decisions related to business closures, remote work options, or adjustments to work schedules during emergencies.

Severe weather can also knock out communication channels, causing different departments or teams to respond inconsistently. To address a lack of preparedness, employers can develop an emergency response plan to help them deal with winter emergencies. 

What should be included in an emergency response plan:

  • The plan should include protocols for business closures, remote work options, communication strategies, and employee safety measures.
  • A communication protocol for notifying employees about winter emergencies. 
  • Establish primary communication channels, designate spokespersons, and ensure timely updates to all employees during winter emergencies.
  • Conduct regular training sessions to educate employees about their roles during winter emergencies and how to deal with winter hazards.
  • Conduct regular emergency drills and exercises to familiarize employees with the winter emergency response plan.
  • Ensure the workplace is equipped with emergency supplies, including first aid kits, blankets, and necessary tools.
  • Maintain an updated list of emergency contacts or call tree. This should include contact information for local authorities, emergency services, and key personnel within the organization.
  • Make the emergency response plan easily accessible to all employees. Include it in the employee handbook, create physical documentation, and catalogue it on the company intranet for quick reference.

Do you need help creating health and safety policies or measures for your workplace?

Don’t let winter hazards disrupt your business operations. Get expert support from Peninsula’s award-winning team. We can develop health and safety documentation, policies, and assessments to protect your business and employees. To learn more about our services, call an expert today at 1(833) 247-3652.

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