Keeping Safe When Operating in Wintry Conditions

Keeping Safe When Operating in Wintry Conditions

From North Carolina to New YOrk, winter storm Jonas dumped record amounts of snow across the East Coast this month, shutting down governments, burying roads and making curbside collection nearly impossible. As the snow slowed, road crews made their way through the streets to clear away snow and ice. In New York City, sanitation trucks fitted with plows moved snow and cleared streets of the shuttered town. It was just shy of a week after the storm began, before the sanitation department resumed trash pickup. By the middle of last week, New York City, Baltimore, Charleston, S.C., and other Eastern towns were still working to move massive amounts of snow, with alleyways and side roads still unpassable.

In the aftermath of the storm, solid waste and recycling workers can benefit from reminders of safety measures that combat cold weather illnesses and injuries.

The keys to a strong safety culture, says Jeff Martin, Waste Management Inc. vice president of safety services, are building critical knowledge and effective coaching.

“We apply these same principles to manage those risks faced by our employees during winter weather conditions,” Martin says.

In is important, he says, to remind and inform employees regarding the challenges of colder weather.

“Our strategy includes briefings, posters, videos and task observations conducted by frontline managers. Critical job knowledge is also verified through coaching sessions that promote the valuable exchange of dialogue between managers and employees,” says Martin.

The Solid Waste Association of North America in a recent Safety Matters column pointed to best practices from the Shift into Winter site in British Columbia as a resource for the industry. And the National Waste and Recycling Association circulated winter driving tips last January.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, knowing what to look for when working in cold weather is important in reducing illnesses such as frostbite, trench foot and hypothermia. Signs of frostbite may include reduced blood flow to hands and feet, numbness, tingling or stinging, aching, and bluish or pail, waxy skin.

Additionally, hypothermia occurs when the body has depleted its energy resulting in low body temperature. According to the Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), any time body temperature drops below 95 degrees, medical attention is necessary.

Trench foot also is common when the foot suffers prolonged exposure to wet and cold. Tough, waterproof boots made for cold temperatures are best when working in these conditions.

“Our seasonal focus includes an emphasis on proper footwear and clothing, ‘three points of contact’ and the prevention of slips, trips and falls through strong situational awareness,” Martin emphasized.

These types of ailments can be avoided by taking the right kind of action for prevention and proper planning in advance of cold weather is a must for solid waste and recycling drivers and employees working outdoors. According to NIOSH, workers should dress in appropriate clothing for the weather. Dressing in several layers of loose clothing provides much-needed insulation and allows warm blood to circulate to the body’s extremities. Be sure to protect the ears, face, hands and feet in extremely cold weather. Carry extra socks, gloves, hats, jackets, blankets and a change of clothes to keep dry.

Move into warm locations during work breaks. Be sure to limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days. Drink warm, non-caffeinated beverages and avoid alcohol.

Finally, NIOSH warns that employees taking certain medications, are in poor physical condition or who suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease are at increased risk for illness and injury during this time. 

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