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Rising to the Challenge of Falling Temperatures

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As we transition from warmer to cooler weather this season, it’s worth remembering that lower temperatures bring with them their own particular health and safety risks.

That was underscored recently by a recent study that found that cold weather is 20 times as deadly as hot weather. The study, conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, corroborates another study that found cold kills more than twice the number of people in the United States than does heat.

On the surface, such findings might not seem surprising. Low temperatures can pose more problems for our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Still, media accounts of health problems caused by summer heat waves, often in large urban areas, dominate much of our collective attention to weather’s harsher effects.

As we know, direct exposure to freezing temperatures can be a safety hazard. So, too, can any precipitation that comes with them. Snow and ice can quickly change surface conditions, making everyday activities like as walking and driving a challenge. And things like overexertion from clearing snow from paths and roofs, carbon monoxide exposure from indoor generators, and fires from misplaced or misused supplemental heating devices are all part of the cold weather hazards landscape.

To cut down on the risk of slips and spills on snow, employers should clear snow and ice from- and spread deicer on walking surfaces as soon as possible after a winter storm. But wintertime pedestrians should also be prepared to dress accordingly. OSHA recommends that a "pair of insulated and water resistant boots with good rubber treads is a must for walking during or after a winter storm. Keeping a pair of rubber over-shoes with good treads which fit over your street shoes is a good idea during the winter months. Take short steps and walk at a slower pace so you can react quickly to a change in traction, when walking on an icy or snow-covered walkway."

Those manually removing snow from walkways can quickly become exhausted or dehydrated. Common injuries from shoveling snow involve the muscles of the back. For those attacking the white stuff head on, a simple best practice is to scoop small amounts of snow at a time and shove it rather than heave it. "The use of proper lifting technique is necessary to avoid back and other injuries when shoveling snow: keep the back straight, lift with the legs and do not turn or twist the body," recommends OSHA. The agency also recommends making sure powered equipment, such as snow blowers, are properly grounded to prevent electric shock or electrocution.

When removing snow from rooftops and working at height, OSHA recommends employers first evaluate snow removal tasks for hazards. That includes making a plan, such as looking for ways to do the job without actually setting foot on the rooftop. Just as important, employers should identify the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job and ensure that workers are trained on how to use it correctly.

OSHA’s online resource about winter hazards, https://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/winter_weather/hazards_precautions.html, includes guidance for driving, dealing with stranded vehicles, shoveling snow and using powered equipment such as snow blowers, preventing slips on snow and ice, working near or repairing downed or damaged power lines, and removing fallen limbs or trees.

The Ready.gov webpage at https://www.ready.gov/winter-weather offers a number of precautions to take before driving in winter weather, especially if there are watches or warnings in effect. Some of those tips are:
-Keeping the gas tank full to keep the fuel line from freezing.
-Letting someone know your destination, route, and when you expect to arrive.
-Keeping a cell phone or other emergency communication device with you.
-Packing your vehicle with an emergency kit that includes thermal blankets, extra winter clothes, a basic tool kit, (including a good knife and jumper cables), an ice scraper and shovel, flashlights or battery-powered lanterns with extra batteries, and high calorie, nonperishable food and water.
-Having a supply of material such as rock salt or sand for extra traction under tires.

With the ever-growing use of social media, it might come as no surprise that Ready.gov also offers a Winter Weather Safety Social Media Toolkit (https://www.ready.gov/winter-toolkit) with winter weather safety and preparedness messages to be shared through social media channels.

Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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