Dangerous Winter Work Injuries:  Severe Injuries or Death While on the Job in Cold Weather


Dangerous Winter Work Injuries:  Severe Injuries or Death While on the Job in Cold Weather

Motor Vehicle Accidents, Equipment Failures, Electric Shock, Burns, Injured by Falling Objects

In our last post, we discussed the dangers of working in winter weather in Indiana and Illinois.  Our part of the country routinely experiences months of frigid temperatures with ice and snow conditions.  Working here in the winter brings special kinds of risks of injury just because of our cold climate.

Slip and fall accidents on slippery surfaces can mean a serious injury or even death.  Permanent harm can come to workers who suffer frostbite.  Some workers risk death from hypothermia if proper safety precautions are not taken by their employers.

Type of Work May Create Increased Risk of Harm During Winter Months

However, for many workers on the job here in Indiana and Illinois, the type of work they do brings even more danger of being seriously injured or killed while on the job during the winter months.  Special types of trades and craftsmanship may be needed on a worksite regardless of the snow, sleet, ice, or below-freezing temperatures.

For these workers, safety is even more important on the job.  Employers must maintain vigilant oversight of their worksites and working conditions to keep these employees safe from harm. 

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Driving conditions during the winter months are much different than the rest of the year here in Indiana and Illinois.  Fog can limit a driver’s vision.  Sleet or snow can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicles on the roadway.  Black ice is notorious here as a high risk driving condition.

Workers can be seriously injured in a winter motor vehicle accident while on the job here in Indiana or Illinois.  Employers need to make sure their workers are safe if their job requires them to travel by motor vehicle as part of their work.  These workers need to have training in maneuvering through poor winter driving conditions.   Their vehicles need to be prepared for winter road hazards, as well. 

Equipment Failures

Some jobs require specific kinds of equipment as part of the work.  Machines like backhoes, bulldozers, cranes, and forklifts are “heavy equipment.” These big machines are needed in a variety of local industries, such as forestry, construction, mining, and millwork.

The freezing cold temperature of our winter weather creates special risks for workers using this kind of equipment.  Failure of heavy equipment can result in serious injury and death to the heavy equipment operator as well as his co-workers on the job site. 

Operating heavy equipment during the winter means that employers as well as equipment operators need to be on guard for the following hazards:

  • Batteries that can explode while someone tries to charge the frozen battery with jumper cables;
  • Heavy equipment operators will often have decreased visibility due to iced or fogged windows;
  • Heavy machines need to be parked on surfaces that protect the tires from freezing to the ground. Bad tires increase the risk of accidents; and
  • Frozen surfaces are often a factor in working with heavy equipment. Frozen ground or iced-over roadways mean that there is a higher risk of accident as the driver can lose control and crash into another person or vehicle. There is also a higher risk of the heavy equipment tipping over on an icy surface when it loses traction.

For details, read the article published in Equipment World on December 24, 2012, entitled “The 21 best practices for winter equipment operation.”

Electric Shock

A great number of employees will be expected to come into direct contact with electricity as part of their job.  Workers on power lines from the local utility company or telephone provider as well as electricians will have to deal with electricity, of course.  So will engineers and electronic technicians in a wide variety of industries.

Even workers in an office, retail, or service environment will deal with electricity albeit indirectly.   And all these workers, as well as their employers, need to be aware and alert to the real danger that being near to electricity brings to the human body.

Electricity can cause serious harm and death from electric shock, as well as electrocution.  Burns can result, as well, from fires and explosions caused by electricity overloads. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforces a series of safety regulations regarding workplace safety from the dangers of electricity.  Employers are legally required to follow the federal regulations contained in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), (1) Part 1910.302 through 1910.308 — Design Safety Standards for Electrical Systems, and (2) 1910.331 through 1910.335 — Electrical Safety-Related Work Practices Standards.

These include specific federal regulation of electrical safety in specific industries, including construction (29 CFR 1926, Subpart K) and shipyards (29 CFR 1915.181).

For more on how electricity can cause serious harm and death on the job, read the OSHA Publication, “Controlling Electrical Hazards.”

Burns

Employees can suffer severe and life-altering burns on the job at any time, but the danger is much higher during the cold winter months.  Not only are there the dangers of burns from heaters, ovens, fireplaces, and stoves, but the worker faces specific risks of serious burns from on the job hazards.

These include burns that result from electric shock as well as burns from abrasions and equipment failure.  Power tools may cause burns even if the tool is working properly if the worker slips on a wet floor.

Burns are some of the most excruciating kinds of injuries an accident victim can experience.  The recovery from a severe burn is slow and painful.  Scarring results and it can bring its own kind of pain.  Burns can also mean a loss of use of a limb or even amputation.  Psychological injuries after a burn accident cannot be underestimated here, as well.

Falling Objects

Winter weather brings snow and ice.  The weight from accumulated snow and ice can cause injuries to workers on the job who are hit by falling objects.  Falling tree limbs can cause serious injury.  Falling roofs can harm an entire work site and injure many employees at once.  Telephone poles or utility lines can fall from the weight of snow or ice accumulation.

Falling objects are a real danger to many workers on the job.  It is the responsibility of their employers to be aware of this risk and protect their employees from harm. 

Keeping Workers Safe On the Job During Winter Weather Conditions

Work must continue during the winter months, but employers need to understand that their duties to keep their employees safe from harm on the job rise during these cold conditions.

Employers in Indiana and Illinois must resist the temptation to put profits over people.  This may mean that they will need to do things like:

  • Provide their workers with special gear and apparel (like boots with extra traction and gloves with special insulation);
  • Shield the job site from the weather as much as possible (temporary construction with heaters may be necessary);
  • Schedule work days to deal with the winter weather. Work should be done during the warmest part of the work day;
  • Monitor the work activity of each employee. Employees should take frequent breaks to “warm up” as needed during their shift. Heaters, hot coffee, and on-site break areas should be provided.

If you or a loved one is seriously hurt on the job during the winter weather months here in Indiana or Illinois, then you may have a claim for damages based upon the failure of your employer to provide a safe work area.  State workers’ compensation laws may be available to you.  Other claims may apply based upon product liability or negligence laws, as well. 

Of course, the best thing is that no workers are hurt – but sadly, each year there are employees in our part of the country who are seriously hurt or killed due to employer safety failures during winter weather working conditions.  Let’s be careful out there!

 

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