Is your organization adequately prepared to address winter workplace challenges? This entails taking the necessary measures to ensure the safety of employees, complying with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and mitigating potential liability risks. Additionally, the complexity of employee attendance and pay-related issues can be overwhelming.
Don’t wait for frosty weather to hit; be proactive and prepare for any scenario that may arise. Read on to discover how your business can keep your workplace and team safe during the winter months.
Navigating the Cold to Ensure Employee Safety
The welfare of employees must always be a top priority. However, protecting your workers can become more challenging when considering jobs that involve working outdoors or being exposed to various weather conditions for extended periods.
Cold Stress Concerns
Working in cold conditions can be hazardous, especially when combined with precipitation and wind. To keep workers safe, OSHA guidelines offer preventive measures to avoid cold stress. This condition can lead to various health issues, such as tissue damage, hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot, some of which can have severe consequences, including injury or death.
Cold stress is influenced by factors such as cold air temperatures, high-velocity air movement, dampness and contact with cold water or surfaces. Even temperatures of 50°F can pose a significant risk of cold stress when combined with rain and wind.
Guidelines to Prevent Cold Stress
Working in extreme weather conditions, particularly in the cold, requires precautions. Here are some important tips to consider:
Prioritize Warming Up: Schedule regular breaks to allow workers’ bodies to warm up.
Stay Hydrated: Promote employees to drink plenty of liquids and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate the body.
Avoid Smoking: This habit hampers blood flow to the skin, making it more vulnerable to cold-related issues.
Medication Awareness: Encourage workers who take any medication for potential side effects in cold weather.
Knowledge is Power: Familiarize employees with the signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses and injuries. If they recognize the warning signs, they can take immediate action to prevent complications.
Flexibility & Stretching: Encourage workers, before physically demanding tasks, to stretch properly to prevent pulls and injuries.
Protective Wear: Advise employees to wear gear that will shield them against harsh elements, including
(Note: OSHA requires employers to pay only for protective gear that is out of the ordinary; employees are responsible for everyday clothing like those listed above.)
Proper Training for a Safer Winter
As winter unfolds, employees must receive appropriate training to navigate the unique challenges and heightened risks that accompany the season. Ensure they are well-versed in safety procedures to protect themselves, including the dangers of exposed skin, inadequate protective wear, and cold, wet and slippery equipment. Employees should also be prepared to identify and treat cold-weather illnesses and injuries for themselves and coworkers.
Navigate Winter Roads
Driving in severe weather conditions can be extremely hazardous, posing dangers for employees who utilize company vehicles. Arrange for comprehensive inspections of all company vehicles by professional mechanics, ensuring their readiness to manage winter conditions. Also equip vehicles with emergency supplies (e.g., snow scraper, blanket, first-aid kit, flashlight).
Take measures to protect your company against potential vehicular liabilities. Train drivers on safe, cautious driving techniques during extreme weather and instruct them on proper actions in the case of an accident. Ensure that all cold and inclement weather provisions are within your safety plan.
Inclement weather may force temporary closures or prevent employees’ ability to commute to work. This can create confusion regarding employee compensation.
- For non-exempt (typically hourly) employees, employers are solely obligated to pay them for the hours worked. Therefore, if your business opens late, closes early, shuts down for an entire day or if workers don’t report to work, employers aren’t bound to pay for missed time.
- Exempt (generally salaried) employees face a different situation. If an exempt employee works any portion of the day, employers must compensate them for a full day’s work. Similarly, if the business is closed for the day, the exempt employee must also be paid, unless the business is closed for a week or more. Employers do have the option to require exempt employees to utilize available paid time off or vacation time. If your business remains open but an exempt employee is unable to commute due to inclement weather, this is considered a personal reason and you’re not obligated to pay them.
Policies & Communication
Employees should be well informed regarding company policies related to inclement weather, including safety, attendance and pay. Employers should establish effective communication methods to inform employees of business closures or delays promptly. When bad weather is pending, revisit all policies, remind employees of communication channels for addressing attendance and devise plans for worst-case scenarios. This will help to ensure your company is fully prepared for any weather-related circumstance.
It's important to work with an experienced insurance advisor to evaluate your specific risks and needs. They can help you tailor insurance coverage to protect your business from winter-related employee risks. By ensuring suitable policies are in place, you can effectively manage the financial and legal consequences of these risks.
Protect your company from winter-related risks with these coverage options:
- Workers’ Compensation Insurance: Provides benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. In the winter, this insurance can offer coverage for medical expenses, rehabilitation and lost wages resulting from cold stress, slips and falls, frostbite, and other work-related injuries.
- General Liability Insurance: Offers coverage for third-party bodily injury or property damage claims. If a customer, visitor or other third party sustains injuries on your premises due to a winter-related incident, this policy can help cover legal expenses and potential settlements.
- Commercial Auto Insurance: An essential protection for businesses utilizing vehicles for work during the winter. It provides coverage for accidents, property damage and injuries resulting from hazardous winter driving conditions. Ensure your policy covers both liability and physical damage.
- Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI): Protects in cases of employment-related claims, such as wrongful termination, discrimination or harassment. It can be essential for addressing claims that may arise due to employment decisions made during the winter months.
- Business Interruption Insurance: This is designed to compensate for income loss from businesses forced to close or reduce operations due to winter-related events. This coverage can include compensation for costs of temporary relocation or additional expenses incurred to sustain business operations.
We’re Here to Help You Have a Safe Winter Season
Overall, employers are responsible for creating a safe and healthy work environment for employees during cold conditions. Responding appropriately to address winter-related risks can protect workers, reduce liabilities and improve overall workplace productivity and morale. Connect with a member of our team for additional information on how to protect your workforce during the cold winter months.