Protection from the chills of the season
By Randy DeVaul
The time is here to be reminded of the dangers that lurk within the winter season. Snow, sleet, ice, freezing temperatures and chill factors bring about a whole set of hazards unique to the season. Driving and roadways, shoveling, poor visibility, slips/falls, frostbite and hypothermia are but a few of the hazards that come to mind. Coming out of the holiday season also adds personal and familial stressors that cannot be ignored.
Keeping employees focused on work and tasks may be difficult in addition to whatever the weather brings. Managers must closely observe employee performance during this time of year to ensure safe practices are maintained and to watch for signs of potential problems that the employee may not recognize until an incident or injury occurs. Preparing for these types of hazards provides preventive measures for “survival” for managers, employees, production and the equipment.
Shoveling snow is more strenuous than running
Shoveling snow is more strenuous than running. The three major aspects of snow shoveling – resistance, not breathing properly during exertion, and cold air – combine to increase heart rate and blood pressure to levels that can be fatal.
Also, if performing the shoveling task improperly, risk of back injury increases significantly. Poor positioning, twisting at the waist, lifting heavy snow on the end of a shovel – these all can adversely affect the lower back with muscle strain, ligament sprains and possible vertebral and disc damage. They could also lead to time off from work to relieve the spasms or pain, or even workers’ compensation claims.
Snow also creates visibility concerns, slippery driving and walking conditions, and additional work hazards not normally part of the daily routine. Conveyor belts, for example, require snow removal prior to starting up. Heavy mobile equipment, such as fork trucks and gantry cranes, requires special attention as well. Walkways, stairs, ladders, platforms and other work access areas left unattended become dangerous, including the potential to exceed structural safety limits. Additional time must be allowed to perform snow/ice removal and cleaning of these areas to protect the equipment and workers. Failure to address such conditions can be catastrophic.
Sleet and ice
These conditions create havoc almost immediately at work and on the roads. Working surfaces and walkways become dangerously slick. Roads need only a thin layer of freezing rain pellets to start chain reaction accidents. Ice alone can create “black ice” – a potentially fatal condition on roadways that cannot be detected by the driver. Visibility also becomes difficult or perhaps impossible through a buildup of ice on vehicle windows.
Another hazard is the buildup of ice hanging from a roofline or elevated equipment. While conducting pre-shift workplace inspections, employees and managers must take the time to eliminate hazards when they are found. Knowing that a walkway is slippery or a doorway has overhanging ice waiting to fall on an unsuspecting person and not correcting it is tantamount to condoning or ignoring a willful and obvious hazard. The resulting injury can be significant, if not fatal.
Allow for more time when driving in hazardous conditions becomes necessary. Reduce speed and increase following distances behind other vehicles. Ensure employees thoroughly clean windshields and all windows for improved visibility. Use warm gloves (to prevent frostbite) and sunglasses (to cut extreme glare) for increased comfort and safety.
As a side note, indoor/outdoor transition safety glasses with anti-glare coatings work better than permanent-tint sunglasses for improved visibility in bright or glaring lighting conditions that occur most frequently in winter. The glare created by the bright conditions is more of the problem than the bright light itself, so providing anti-glare measures improves visibility, lessens the likelihood of headaches and, with the indoor/outdoor transition lens, ensures employees are wearing safety glasses continuously when entering and leaving buildings or where the light adjusts significantly.
- Properly prepare the vehicle:
- Give it a pre-winter tuneup.
- Replace or recharge weak batteries.
- Ensure all lights are working properly.
- Check the radiator for sufficient antifreeze.
- Use windshield washer fluid with alcohol so it will not freeze on the windshield surface.
- Replace wiper blades that streak.
- Have an ice scraper available to remove ice from the windshield and other windows.
- Allow employees time to cycle the equipment during pre-shift inspections, such as buckets and booms, to ensure safe operation of hydraulics.
For managers, supervisors and utility workers with vehicles, carry a shovel, sand or kitty litter for traction, jumper cables, a working flashlight and warning devices such as flares. These tools will come in handy if the vehicle becomes stuck, and may be crucial in emergency situations.
Check the fire extinguisher on the vehicle, remove it from the mount and turn it upside down to loosen up any compacted material. This is the season for equipment fires as well. A little reminder or extra training on the use of extinguishers with employees ensures each person knows how to use an extinguisher with emphasis on when to use one.
This occurs when skin is exposed to freezing temperatures. Since skin cells are made mostly of water, continued exposure to freezing conditions can cause the water in the cells to freeze. This forms ice crystals within the cells and damages or destroys them. As a result, a person will experience pain, severe swelling of the affected part and may develop gangrene.
To prevent such a risk, always ensure that skin parts are covered when exposed to freezing temperatures. Skin “feels” the temperature it is exposed to, whether ambient or relative. Parts most commonly affected are ear lobes, the nose, cheeks, fingers and toes. It is critical to keep these parts covered and dry. Always keep an extra pair of socks and/or gloves; wear a hat with earflaps.
Hypothermia results from continued exposure to cool temperatures for long periods of time, causing the internal body core temperature to drop. The potential for hypothermia worsens when clothing becomes wet, either from sweating or from the traditional fall and winter “drizzle.” Continuing to wear wet clothing will cause body core temperatures to drop as clothing is exposed to the cold air. The evaporation process will remove heat from directly under the wet clothing. Also, cover your head – up to 75 percent of your body heat can be lost through your exposed head, even though the rest of your body is layered and insulated.
Shivering marks the onset of hypothermia
Shivering marks the onset of hypothermia. This occurs when the body temperature drops to 95 F (35 C). If ignored and the body temperature drops to 92 F (33 C), the shivering mechanism stops and further complications develop. Treatment for hypothermia includes gentle rewarming of the body; maintaining dry, layered clothing; and drinking warm, nonalcoholic beverages.
The use of supplemental heat in shops and other enclosures can create hazards related to fire and explosions as well as exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) due to limited or no ventilation.
Heaters that were not stored properly throughout the year became hazardous from tank leaks, corrosion, gumming or physical damage.
Locate a heater away from combustible or flammable products such as aerosols, solvents, paint, cardboard boxes, manuals and other books. The heat created by these devices can easily cause combustibles to ignite simply from exposure to the released heat without ever coming into contact with a live flame.
Don’t leave heaters on when unattended, even if they are equipped with automatic shut-offs or timers. Keep at least a 3-foot open space around the heater. Don’t use your heater as a dryer by draping clothes, gloves or other materials on or around it.
The American Kerosene Heater Association recommends that only 1-K kerosene be used in a kerosene heater. 2-K is dirtier and requires more cleaning of wicks. Never use gasoline, diesel fuel or other fuels in a kerosene heater. Wait 15 minutes before refueling so it can cool, and always refuel the heater outdoors. Filling it indoors with any spillage can cause the floor to become saturated with fuel and increase the chance of fire.
Electric space heaters must be checked for damage when taking them out of storage, including the cord and plug. Don’t use extension cords with portable heaters and do not overload the outlet by plugging it in with extender or strip outlets.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
Ventilation is important. All supplemental fuel heaters create carbon monoxide as a byproduct of incomplete combustion. Anytime something burns, there is CO. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It weighs about the same as air, so the gas can saturate and mix with air easily while it displaces the oxygen in the air.
In some respects, CO mirrors oxygen. For example, oxygen attaches to hemoglobin inside the red blood cells so it can be transported throughout the body and “feed” all of the body’s living cells. When CO is introduced into the body, it attaches to the hemoglobin 40 times faster than the slower oxygen, causing the oxygen to be pushed out and displaced from the red blood cells.
Once the carbon monoxide is attached, it (not the oxygen) is transported to all the cells in the body and causes the cells to starve. In addition, the molecules are released from the cells much more slowly than oxygen. An overexposed person can receive 100 percent oxygen in a rescue situation and still die from oxygen deprivation! The CO molecule simply will not let go.
In addition to its adverse effects on the human body, a high concentration of carbon monoxide will saturate an oxygen sensor in an air monitor. If the monitor does not measure for CO exposure, there may be no alarm since the oxygen sensor is corrupted.
The permissible exposure limit for an eight-hour time weighted average for carbon monoxide is 50 parts per million (ppm). What this means in more visible terms can be likened to a recipe for a root beer float. Usually it calls for one scoop of ice cream in one cup of root beer, but 1 ppm in this case would equal one scoop of ice cream in a railcar tanker of root beer! So 50 scoops of ice cream in the tanker of root beer would equal 50 ppm. As you can see, it doesn’t require too many CO molecules to become hazardous to a person’s health.
Depending on the amount of time and concentration of exposure to carbon monoxide, it can produce a fatal recipe. The chart below provides an example of the human body’s reaction to various levels of carbon monoxide.
|50||PEL (Permissible Exposure Limit||8 hours|
|200||Slight Headache||3 hours|
|600||Headache, Discomfort||1 hour|
|1,000-2,000||Confusion, Nausea, Heart Palpitations||30 minutes|
Keep suspect areas well-ventilated and keep people rotated to reduce exposure time or concentrations. If you see the signs beginning to develop in an employee, get him to fresh air immediately.
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. Whether high concentrations at short intervals or small concentrations with prolonged or repeated exposure, CO will compromise and adversely affect a person’s health. Knowing the hazards can help, but only prevention from exposure will protect a person from harm.
Plan, prepare and anticipate. These are not new problems but recur year after year. Employees and managers have much more control over the outcome of events than they are willing to admit. So control it and be safe this season.
Randy DeVaul is a 25-plus year safety professional/consultant, internationally published safety writer, and author of three performance-based workplace safety books (www.filbertpublishing.com/safety.htm). Comments are always welcome at [email protected].