By Craig B. Simonsen

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has just published a web page that provides “safety and health information on winter storm hazards.” OSHA indicates that winter storms “create a variety of hazards and can have lingering impacts on everyday tasks and work activities.” OSHA cites to the National Weather Service, that about 70 percent of injuries during winter storms result from vehicle accidents, and about 25 percent of injuries result from being caught out in the storm.

The new OSHA web page provides guidance on winter storm preparedness, response and recovery, and additional resources. On the preparedness page, OSHA suggests it is important to monitor weather sources to be informed when a winter storm is possible, and to be familiar with the terms used to describe the likelihood, immediacy, and conditions of a potential storm. The site provides definitions and lists the types of winter storm watches and warnings that will be published by government and news agencies. The site suggests preparing vehicles to reduce the chances of a weather-related incident, and to prepare and include in the vehicle an emergency kit.

OSHA notes that while many workers can stay inside during a winter storm, some workers may be required to go out into the storm. These may include utility workers; law enforcement personnel; firefighters; emergency medical personnel; federal, state and local government personnel; military personnel; highway personnel; and sanitation workers. The response and recovery page provides information and discussion relating to some of the hazards associated with working in winter storms, including the following topics:

  • Driving accidents due to slippery roadways.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Hypothermia and frostbite due to the cold weather exposure.
  • Exhaustion from strenuous activity.
  • Dehydration.
  • Back injuries or heart attack while removing snow.
  • Slips and falls due to slippery walkways.
  • Electrocution due to downed power lines or downed objects in contact with power lines.
  • Burns from fires caused by energized line contact or equipment failure.
  • Being struck by falling objects such as icicles, tree limbs, and utility poles.
  • Falls from snow removal on roofs, or while working in aerial lifts or on ladders.
  • Roof collapse under weight of snow (or melting snow if drains are clogged).
  • Lacerations or amputations from unguarded or improperly operated chain saws and power tools, and improperly attempting to clear jams in snow blowers.

The additional resources provided by OSHA through this page include the cold stress health guide and equation information, winter safety and awareness tips and reference documents, driving tips, and other reference materials.

This new OSHA web page may provide employers with a source of good information and common sense planning and preparation materials.