Hazards associated with winter weather include exposure to cold temperatures and wet, icy, or snow-covered sidewalks and streets. Adverse weather conditions in winter lead to more vehicle collisions — according to reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the months of November, December, and January consistently show at least 25 percent more traffic fatalities than the other months of the year. For those working outdoors, injuries from winter weather conditions include slip-and-fall accidents and stress from exposure to cold temperatures and difficult conditions. During winter, the secret to preventing injuries and staying safe is preparation for and awareness of potential dangers.
Dress appropriately for cold weather by wearing three light layers:
- An inner layer for wicking moisture away from your body.
- A middle layer to insulate you from the cold.
- An outer layer that repels wind, snow, and rain that you can remove, as needed.
Also, protect your hands, neck, and face with appropriate clothing, and wear warm, waterproof shoes or boots. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause your body to lose heat, which puts you at risk for hypothermia or frostbite. Frostbite occurs when skin is exposed to extreme cold for long periods, and the skin and underlying tissue freeze. The fingers, toes, and feet are most affected, but other extremities such as the nose, ears, and cheeks can also develop frostbite.
At the first sign of frostbite, get out of the cold. Unless necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes. Do not rub the frostbitten area because it will cause more damage. Warm the affected area using body heat or by immersing it in warm water; avoid using a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming because direct heat can burn damaged tissue. Drink warm beverages to replace lost fluids. In case of severe frostbite, seek medical attention.
Snowy and icy conditions increase the likelihood of slips, trips, and falls, which result in pain, injury, and lost productivity. Proper footwear with good tread is essential to walk safely on slippery surfaces. Prevent slips, trips, and falls with the following tips:
- Wear grippers (ice cleats).
- Walk with care and take short steps.
- Finger mail only when it is safe to do so.
- Take extra precautions when entering and exiting your vehicle.
- Use handrails on steps.
- Wait for vehicles to stop completely on snow- or ice-covered roadways before crossing the street.
Wet and icy road surfaces, longer periods of darkness, and poor visibility from snow, rain, and fog create driving hazards during the winter months. Prepare for driving in bad weather with the following tips:
- Maintain your vehicle and tune up the engine for winter.
- Keep good treads on your tires.
- Make sure your lights function properly.
- Add anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid, if necessary.
- Replace worn wipers.
- Clear ice and snow from windows, headlights, and the hood and roof of your car before starting out, and repeat as needed.
Keep an emergency kit in your car with the following supplies:
- Cat litter or sand.
- An ice scraper or snow brush.
- A small shovel.
- Extra clothes and blankets.
- Non-perishable food.
If you plan to travel in bad weather, monitor road and weather conditions by checking local news, traffic, and weather stations or websites. Winter driving can be challenging — practice safe driving techniques with these tips:
- Leave a few minutes early so you have plenty of time to reach your destination.
- Wear your seat belt.
- Avoid distractions while driving.
- Stay alert and calm. Keep an eye on traffic farther ahead so you have extra time to react to sudden changes in traffic flow.
- Maintain a safe speed for road conditions. Keep a safe distance between you and other vehicles.
- Do not use cruise control. Touching your brakes to deactivate it can cause you to skid.
- Avoid making abrupt lane changes. Use turn signals well before you turn.
- Make room for maintenance vehicles and snowplows.
- Watch for black ice on slippery overpasses and bridges.
- Do not use alcohol or drugs while driving.
If you get stuck in the snow or skid off the road, stay in your car and wait for help, but first make sure your car is safely out of harm’s way. Turn on the car heater to stay warm, but make sure your exhaust pipe is clear of snow.
Winter safety throughout the season also includes the following tasks:
- Winterize your home by replacing the weatherstripping on windows and doors, and cleaning leaves out of gutters.
- Service your home’s heating system so that it works properly.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors to pick up on any CO that makes its way into your home through your garage or your heating system.
- Get chimneys inspected.
- Stock up on food, water, batteries, and other supplies in case you ever lose power during a bad storm and can’t get out.
For more winter safety tips, see the following resources:
- Safety Depends on Me videos at blue.usps.gov/corpcomm/uspstv/safety-and-health.
- HERO Safety Talks.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at cdc.gov/disasters/winter/index.html.
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at osha.gov/winter-weather.
- National Safety Council at nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/winter.
- National Weather Service at weather.gov/safety/
Always remember: “Safety Depends on Me.”
— Occupational Safety and Health,
Human Resources, 12-16-21