Prepare Your Home
If you own a business or reside in an area with cold temperatures, there are steps you can take to winter proof and protect your home and assets. Taking precautions can help protect you and your family, as well as your home or business from the worst possible outcome.
Tips to Prepare for Winter Weather
- Clean rain gutters by removing any dirt and debris. Dirty gutters can cause ice to build up and lead to roof and gutter damage.
- Repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
- Have chimneys and any heating equipment cleaned and inspected on a yearly basis.
- Make sure you’ve installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and ensure they’re working with fresh batteries. Consider testing them monthly and replacing their batteries twice a year. Install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near fireplaces, wood stoves, and kerosene heaters.
- Purchase an easy-to-read thermometer inside your home in a highly visible area, especially if you or a loved one are over 65 years old.
- Take the necessary steps to protect pipes from freezing. Insulate all water lines that run by exterior walls and other areas that are prone to freezing with heat tape, insulation, or newspapers so your water supply is less likely to freeze. Allowing faucets to drip a little during cold weather can keep them from freezing. Learn how to shut off water valves in case a pipe bursts.
- Make sure your home is properly insulated by using storm windows, plastic, weatherstripping, and insulation around windows and doors to eliminate drafts. Cover windows with plastic from the inside to keep the cold out, caulk and weather strip doors and windows, and be sure you have the proper insulation in your walls and attic.
- Purchase a power generator or wood-burning stove that can provide backup power in case of an outage. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and know how to use it safely. All heating sources should also be installed according to local codes and permit requirements. Fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside to prevent carbon monoxide from getting trapped inside the building.
- Regular fuel sources may be cut off, so consider storing sufficient heating fuel, such as firewood or coal. However, be cautious of fire hazards when storing any type of fuel.
- Never use heating sources in partially enclosed areas and make sure that units are located away from windows, vents, and doors that can allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
- Keep fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone knows how to use them.
- Have a qualified technician check your furnace system and vents to make sure they are functioning properly.
- Hire a professional to check the structural integrity of your roof and its ability to carry the weight of accumulated snow.
- Winterize any barns, sheds, and structures in addition to your home that may provide shelter for family, neighbors, livestock, or equipment.
- Have an emergency preparedness kit on hand for you and your loved ones.
Protect Your Employees
Cold temperatures can impact employees’ abilities to do their work safely. The construction, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and sanitation industries are just some lines of work where workers are at risk for cold stress.
Though OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard for employers to follow that covers working in cold environments, providing a place of employment that’s free from recognized hazards, including cold stress, can help reduce serious physical harm. Knowing the types of cold stress, weather risks, and cold weather safety tips can help you prevent accidents this winter, and any time it gets cold.
Cold Stress Factors
What constitutes extreme cold can vary greatly across the country, though there are three conditions to assess that cause cold-related stress: air temperature, wind speed, and humidity. OSHA estimates that water (yes, this includes sweat), can displace heat 25 times faster than dry air. Though most people might assume that cold stress can only happen in below freezing temperatures, it can also happen in 50°F if it’s windy or raining. This is why it’s important to look at wind chill when temperatures begin to drop. Wind chill is the temperature the body feels when we combine air temperature and wind speed.
Types of Cold Stress
When it’s cold, most of the body’s energy is used to keep its internal core temperature warm. With time, blood flow will shift from extremities and outer skin to the chest and abdomen. When temperatures drop below “normal,” and your body releases heat faster, this can cause physical stress. Cold stress happens when the body is unable to keep itself warm, and this may lead to illness or injuries.
Because average temperatures can vary greatly by geographic area, in regions that don’t regularly see winter weather (Los Angeles and Tampa, as examples), near freezing temperatures would be considered factors for cold stress, while that might not necessarily be the case in consistently colder areas (for example, Chicago and Detroit).
Additional risk factors that contribute to cold stress:
- Improper attire
- Diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hypertension
- Poor physical conditioning
Cold Weather Safety Tips for Employees
Encourage employees to do the following:
Wear the Right Clothing
Wearing several layers of loose clothing provides insulation. Wool insulates better than cotton. Wear at least three layers of clothing: an inner layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer. The inner layer should be a synthetic weave, the middle layer should be down or wool, and the outer layer should be waterproof. Avoid tight clothing if possible, as it reduces blood circulation to extremities.
Protect Hands, Feet, Ears, and Face
Wear a hat and insulated gloves. Also be sure to wear insulated, waterproof boots.
Try to Stay Dry
Wet or damp clothing can cause body temperature to drop, quickly. This puts people at greater risk of illness and injury.
Have Extra Clothes on Hand
Have a change of dry clothing on hand to change into in case your clothes become wet or damp. If this happens, you should change out of wet clothes as soon as you can.
Monitor Physical Condition
Know the symptoms of cold stress and listen to your body for signs that you might be experiencing it so you can take care of yourself sooner rather than later.
Take Breaks As Needed
Scheduling frequent breaks in warm, dry areas can help prevent cold stress.
Avoid Skin Contact with Cold Metal Surfaces
Touching cold metal surfaces can cause frostbite, and your skin can freeze to the metal. When you try to remove yourself from the surface, it might rip your skin.
Drink Warm Sweet Beverages
It’s just as important to stay hydrated in cold weather as when it’s hot. Warm, sweet drinks or beverages with electrolytes help nourish your body as it uses energy to keep itself warm. Avoid drinking alcohol, and if possible, don’t drink caffeine as these substances cause your body to lose heat at a faster rate.
Look Out For One Another
Try working in pairs so that you and your coworkers can monitor each other for symptoms of cold stress and get help if needed.
As an employer, you can help foster a safe working environment in cold conditions by doing the following:
Provide training about how to recognize and prevent cold stress, as well as how to administer first aid. Also train employees about which work practices and personal protective equipment can help them avoid cold stress.
Consider installing radiant heaters, and if possible, shield areas of work from wind to reduce wind chill.
Provide Warm Beverages
Try to provide warm beverages to that workers stay hydrated and warm.
Equip Vehicles with Emergency Kits
Keep winter safety kits in company vehicles in case of an emergency.
Clear Walking Paths
Avoid slips and falls by keeping walking paths clear of snow. Spread salt on paved surfaces.
Schedule Work, Intelligently
If possible, schedule heavy work during warmer hours of the day and allow workers to take breaks to warm up as needed. Try to assign workers in pairs so they can monitor each other for signs of cold stress.
Winter Preparedness Kit
- Water: one gallon per person, per day for 3-7 days
- Food: 3-7-day supply of non-perishable items that are easy to prepare, such as canned foods or snacks. Pack a can opener for canned foods.
- Disposable plates, cups, and utensils
- First aid kit
- Medications: 7-day supply and items needed to administer medication, medication list, pertinent medical information
- Personal hygiene and sanitation items
- Extra batteries
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio, preferably an NOAA weather radio
- Cell phone chargers and backup batteries
- Family and emergency contact information
- Maps of the area
- Copies of important documents (birth certificates, passports, etc.)
- Sanitation supplies (toilet paper, feminine Hygiene, baby wipes, etc.)
- Family and emergency contact information
- Reflective emergency blanket
- Spare car and house keys
- Adequate clothing, such as boots, hats, gloves, mittens, and blankets to keep each family member warm
Pets, Babies, & Seniors
- Pets and livestock: identification, immunization records, carrier, collar, leash, bowl, medications, water, and food
- Babies: bottles, formula, baby food, diapers, wipes, small toys
- Seniors: hearing aids with extra batteries, instructions about how to administer medicine and use lifesaving equipment, contact information for medical personnel who administer treatments
- An ax, a shovel, and a broom
- Rope for towing or rescue
- Sand to improve vehicle traction
- Rock salt or other environmentally safe products that melt ice on walkways
- Snow removal equipment, including snow shovels
- Heating fuel, like wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove; be sure to store it safely
It’s a good idea to connect with a broker to review your policies and make sure you’ll be covered in case of an emergency.
Even though extreme cold and winter weather are more predictable than other extreme weather events, it’s crucial to prepare an emergency kit that includes items specific to these areas. While certain jobs require workers to brave the elements, employee safety is crucial. However, with proactive measures, you and your workers can stay safe. As natural disasters’ impact and severity are always unpredictable, safeguarding what matters most is vital. Contact us for more information and tips to stay safe during extreme weather events and natural disasters.
Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only. BRPGroup, Inc. and its affiliates, do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. Please consult with your own tax, legal or accounting professionals before engaging in any transaction.