Winter Safety: Proactive Risk Assessment and Mitigation is Key
Blog | December 14th, 2022

Winter Safety: Proactive Risk Assessment and Mitigation is Key

Welcome back to our monthly blog series on the topic of Proactive Workplace Safety. We started this blog collection in Oct 2022, publishing a blog on Fire Safety, delineating best practices to mitigate fire safety risks – using the power of automation. In Nov 2022, we focused on what it takes to adopt a safety-first approach while performing Maintenance and Repair Activities.

This month, we’ll be talking about Keeping the Workplace Safe in Winter.

As temperatures drop, pleasant anticipation of Christmas, New Year and the holiday season warms our hearts. But for workers who come into work, that warmth is certainly not enough to keep the winter cold away! Working long hours in the winter cold can have serious implications for workers.

While industrial heaters help, this very source of heat is one of the leading causes of fires in the US. It may seem ironic that we worry about fires in winter, given the lower temperatures and perceived lower risk – but it is a real cause for worry. In fact, one of the key reasons why heating equipment may cause a fire is the lack of proper cleaning and maintenance.

Some of the other winter safety risks include:

  • Cold stress: Frostbite and hypothermia are serious problems during winter and can manifest themselves as numbness initially, progressing to even loss of coordination.
  • Slips and falls: As ice and snow thaw, they can leave behind wet surfaces, slush and mud. This increases the risk of slips and falls, causing injuries or even death depending on the height from which you fall.
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) exposure: Fuel-fired heaters can release CO gas, a clear, odorless, colorless gas that can interfere with oxygen intake and prove fatal even in small doses.
  • Lack of proper equipment maintenance: In addition to heating equipment, lack of proper maintenance/cleaning of other machinery can also result in winter fires.

To ensure that employees and employers truly get to enjoy the season and don’t have to deal with safety incidents, it is important to keep the workplace safe and address hazards by implementing some simple measures.

The first step to making this happen is to conduct a thorough risk assessment prior to the winter season, analyze data from the past and plan mitigative measures accordingly.

Implementing Best Practices to Keep Workplace Safe in Winter

Businesses can ensure workplace safety by implementing a few simple yet effective mitigative measures to prevent accidents this winter.

Ensure Proper Housekeeping: To prevent fires and slips due to wet surfaces, avoid clutter, clean surfaces periodically, store inflammable materials carefully and check appliances and equipment to make sure there is no carbon monoxide release. You can also fix alarms to detect CO in the atmosphere. Ensure the room temperature is maintained at a comfortable level.

Proper Maintenance of Electrical Wiring: As electric fires are a common hazard in any commercial building, maintain wires properly by correcting faulty wiring and repairing electrical systems to minimize the risk of damage and resulting fire.

Ensure Smoke and CO Alarms Are Functional: Sometimes, due to disuse, electrical and electronic gadgets may not work. This is the case with smoke and CO alarms too. They must be tested periodically and the batteries refreshed from time to time to ensure the alarms are working. The alarms should be placed where there is a high movement of people, including places such as offices, lobbies and kitchens. Old alarms must be replaced with new ones as their lifespan is eight years at the most.

Be Prepared for Space Heater Hazard: As we have seen earlier, space heaters are one of the major causes of fires during the winter. Space heaters may also be used in commercial properties and therefore are a potential hazard. Ensure that they are not placed close to furniture or other flammable items.

Have Sufficient Fire Extinguishers: Keep fire extinguishers within easy access in areas where the risk of fire is high.

Train Employees to Manage Accidents: Prevention is cure, but in the eventuality of an event, it is essential to correct it quickly and minimize damage to lives and property. Different causes of fires need to be addressed differently. Therefore, training key personnel in the various causes of fire and how to put them out is essential. Fire drills are also important to help employees exit the premises safely in case of fire. Mitigation measures in case of CO in the air also should be implemented and the employees trained to take appropriate action. Having emergency exits clear and replenishing the First Aid kit are added safety measures.

In addition to the above, it is also important to do the following:

  • Have a process in place to monitor extreme cold temperatures, snow storms, etc.
  • Have a plan in place for workers/employees who will be on the move (delivery or logistics team, for example) or working remotely
  • Alert the facilities management team
  • Have a well-documented emergency response plan
  • Plan for power outages
  • Request personnel to wear appropriate PPEs or layered clothing

Automating Winter Safety Processes

Accidents may be rare, but to keep it that way businesses must constantly review their safety management process – with a focus on driving continuous improvement.

This requires periodic inspections and audits, equipment maintenance and encouragement to adopt “safety-first behavior” along with necessary training. In the rush to meet deadlines and deliver on core responsibilities, safety measures can fall by the wayside.

Safety leaders must have a checklist that ensures all winter safety initiatives are progressing as planned and any gaps are assessed, identified and rectified.

This requires a modern, next-generation EHS Solution that enables complete data visibility and traceability. ComplianceQuest EHS Solution is a cloud-based solution to automate and streamline the end-to-end safety management process, with an integrated risk management. Some of the key modules/capabilities include the following:

  • Streamline the process of conducting audits and inspections, with data and documents at the core
  • Management Review Solution to ensure the safety team can easily collaborate with executive leaders by sharing data, requesting approvals and conducting data-driven periodic reviews
  • Analytics and dashboards help capture trends, identify risks, prioritize them and implement mitigation strategies
  • Incident Reporting and Safety Observations help to record near misses and events – and plan mitigative measures as needed
  • A robust process for training ensures workers and employees have the necessary skills, in addition to proper awareness about safety requirements
  • Document management and anytime, anywhere access to key documents is critical to make sure there is a single source of truth on the EHS system

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