As an employer, you have a legal obligation to take all reasonable precautions to ensure a safe workplace for your employees. This includes identifying seasonal hazards and taking steps to reduce related risks. Ignoring winter hazards could lead to injuries, absences, lost-time compensation claims, and even litigation.
We recommend that you review and update your health and safety policies, so you and your staff can be prepared for the following common winter hazards:
Slips and Falls
The risk of injury due to falls is high in winter. It is important you identify any areas or spots in and around your worksite that could be dangerous when wet or icy, such as parking lots, pathways, side entrances, etc.
- Clear snow and ice off frequently used areas, such as walkways, stairs, pavements
- Spread rock salt on pathways to prevent black ice formation
- Put up signs, cones, and hazard safety tape to warn staff and customers about potential hazards, such as wet floors or slippery surfaces
- Block access to dangerous spots
- Train your staff on workplace winter safety best practices
Cold stress for outdoor workers
Employers in industries such as construction, transportation, and landscaping should have a cold stress exposure control plan to protect staff working outdoors from hypothermia and frostbite.
You should ensure your outdoor employees have the right equipment and are dressed appropriately to work in cold weather. In case of dangerous weather conditions, employers should reschedule outside work until the weather improves.
Consider making changes to your work schedules or worksites to reduce hazards. For instance, you could install heated warming shelters on any worksite that has below-freezing point temperatures.
It is equally important to educate workers on the precautions needed for types of cold stress, proper attire, nutrition, safe work practices, and basic first aid. Make sure you are following your provincial regulations and working within the safe temperature guidelines.
For more information on how to protect your outdoor staff from cold weather, read our blog on managing cold stress in the workplace.
Travelling safely to work can also be a challenge during severe winter weather. Heavy snow, icy roads, and delayed service on public transit may make it hard to get to work on time.
It is important you have a procedure in place for such inclement weather days. Make sure your employees are aware of safety guidelines when driving in severe weather conditions. Inform them whom to contact if they are unable to make it to work because the roads are too dangerous to drive on.
It is also useful to have an inclement weather policy to provide clarity on the procedures to follow on severe weather days. Though not a legal requirement, an inclement weather policy will help you prepare for sudden work closures due to an emergency.
An inclement weather policy establishes the procedures your business will follow if it temporarily closes due to harsh weather, a natural disaster, or an emergency. The policy should also communicate how employees would be notified of a business closure and whether they will be paid during the closure.
If you expect your employees to work from home on such days, make it clear in your policy. You should also provide clarity on what that set up would be like.
Read our blog on creating an inclement weather policy for more information.
Mental health challenges
Staying upbeat can be difficult during the cold and bleak winter months. It is especially challenging for people who experience seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The fear, anxiety, and prolonged isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic has also brought the importance of good mental health into the limelight. Employers should offer an Employee Assistance Program to support employees by giving them a means to manage mental health and personal difficulties better.
It is also a good practice to have a comprehensive mental health policy to guide your staff and supervisors on how to handle mental health disclosures and requests for accommodation.
Read our blog on the benefits of offering an Employee Assistance Program here.
It is just as crucial to prepare your workplace for viruses, such as the seasonal flu. The flu season in Canada usually starts in November and peaks during the winter months (December to February). This is the third year when the flu season has overlapped with COVID-19.
If you are already following your provincial public health guidelines and have COVID-19 health & safety protocols in place, they will also help reduce the risk of an influenza outbreak.
Wondering how to reduce these hazards in your workplace?
Peninsula can help. From walking you through your risk assessment to reviewing your workplace, our expert advisers are here for you 24/7.