Winter blew in with a vengeance in many parts of Illinois this year and with it, the danger of injuries related to extreme cold, ice, snow and wind to workers in jobs requiring outside work or driving. Even if a person’s job duties do not require them to drive for work or perform duties outdoors, they may sustain injury walking into the work premises from a parking lot, for example.
At our law firm, we represent employees with work-related winter injuries and illnesses in their workers’ compensation claims across the state. These may include hypothermia, fall injuries, slipping injuries, frostbite, injuries from vehicle accidents, tissue damage, trench foot and in extreme cases, even death.
An obvious danger is the presence of ice or snow on sidewalks, parking lots and other workplace surfaces. To prevent slips and falls, employers should remove snow and ice as soon as possible and apply sand or chemicals when needed. Another danger is when snow or ice that has accumulated on roofs breaks and slides off, hitting people walking or working beneath.
People who work outside at heights in wintry conditions like construction workers face increased risk of falling in the winter. Ladders, roofs and scaffolds can become icy, cold and slippery. Balance can be difficult when coldness causes stiff or numb limbs. Employers in these conditions should remove ice and snow from equipment used in elevated work and on elevated surfaces. If the employer cannot make the elevated winter worksite safe, the work should not continue.
Of course, people whose work duties involve driving like over-the-road semi-truck drivers, delivery drivers, home service providers, bus drivers, construction workers, sanitation workers, plow drivers and others should be well trained on safe winter driving practices. For example:
- If you cannot drive safely because of extreme weather, get off the road or off the worksite.
- Slow down for the conditions.
- Allow more braking time and learn the safest braking techniques for the vehicle in question in icy conditions.
Employers who provide vehicles for workers must keep them well maintained for winter, including adding safety equipment and emergency kits in case of a stall or getting stuck or stranded.
This only introduces a broader topic. As a rule of thumb, Illinois employers should remember that if they cannot make an outdoor workplace safe for the conditions, the work can wait. Keep outdoor workers safer by allowing frequent indoor breaks, providing safety clothing or footwear, getting quick medical attention for cold-related injuries and having employees work in pairs.