6 Tips for Fall Protection in Winter Weather

by Melanie Baravik
January 30, 2018

Each year, OSHA compiles a list of the most common safety violations in the construction industry, and fall violations have topped that list for several years running. Cold temperatures and icy winter weather are in full swing across much of the US, creating more fall hazards on construction jobsites. Here are a few extra precautions you can take to prevent fall injuries this winter.

1. Conduct safety training in the fall to prepare for winter

Before winter weather ever hits, get your employees prepared for the season. Every fall, go over any incidents from the previous winter and revise safety procedures to keep them from happening again. Host safety training sessions so employees know your business’s plan for injury prevention. Take the time to assign snow and ice removal responsibilities so no one has to wonder whose turn it is to shovel snow and salt sidewalks.

2. De-ice and clear walkways and parking lots

Clearing snow and salting walkways might seem obvious, but it can be easy to overlook parking lots and icy patches. Pay attention to weather forecasts so you’re aware of incoming bad weather and can plan ahead to get the jobsite cleared before getting to work. Take an extra few minutes to walk through the entire parking lot and down each walkway to make sure there’s no unexpected ice or snow-covered hazards that can trip up workers.

Businesses are obligated to repair walking-working surface hazards like potholes and cracked, uneven concrete, so like safety training, this step begins in the fall. Fix any issues before freezing weather can cause more damage.

3. Wear appropriate footwear

Though this is important year-round, appropriate footwear means more than just slip-resistant in the winter. Working outdoors in cold temperatures calls for boots that keep your feet warm, dry and protected. Look for boots that are waterproof and cold-weather resistant. OSHA also suggests training employees to take shorter, more cautious steps in winter conditions.

4. Clear snow and ice from equipment, ladders and roofs thoroughly and safely

Snow removal isn’t limited to walkways: equipment is bound to collect snow and ice at some point. Pay special attention ladders and scaffolding, keeping ladders stored indoors when possible so ice doesn’t collect on the rungs. Regularly inspect and deice scaffolding and ensure that it always meets OSHA standards. If your employees are working on a roof, remove snow safely with ladders or aerial lifts so they can see where they’re walking and use a deicer.

5. Follow OSHA regulations for harnessing and guardrails

OSHA has specific rules for nearly everything on this list, but construction businesses are most commonly cited for failing to construct guardrails and outfit employees with harnesses or other “personal fall arrest systems.” Guardrails and/or personal fall protections are required if an employee is working at a height of six feet or more. If employees are working less than six feet above dangerous equipment, guardrails or equipment guards are required. Of course these protections aren’t exclusive to the winter, but it can’t hurt to use the changing seasons as a compliance check.

6. Don’t forget new safety standards effective in January 2017

In 2016, OSHA published the Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment rule, another fall prevention effort. The rule took effect on January 17, 2017, and gives businesses more flexibility when it comes to choosing safety methods for preventing slips, trips and falls. It accounts for changes in technology since the rule's last update in 1971 and introduces some new standards for personal fall protection systems. If you didn’t reevaluate safety procedures last year, do so now and don’t let out-of-date safety methods put your workers at risk this winter.

Falls are the leading cause of death in the industry, and they are preventable, so OSHA puts extra emphasis on fall protection. In 2012, the agency began the Fall Prevention Campaign, an ongoing awareness initiative with a simple three-step safety method: plan, provide, and train. Though you should follow those steps all year, try thinking of them as winter-specific: plan for snow and ice, provide appropriate safety and ice removal tools, and train employees for safety in slick, cold conditions. Take advantage of OSHA’s resources for winter weather safety and protect against illness and injury hazards the season brings.  

Another way to put an end to jobsite falls is to participate in this year’s National Safety Stand-Down from May 7-11. During this week, OSHA and partnering businesses encourages construction firms to make time to talk about safety with their employees — specifically fall protection. Whether you host a big event or hold extra safety meetings, you can be a part of the initiative. so don’t miss this opportunity to prioritize safety year-round.

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