Provided by Andrew Johnson, AGC Safety Management Consultant
With winter fast approaching, it’s crucial to be prepared for the cold season. Whether you’re at home, on the road, or working outdoors, safety should always be a top priority. Here are some handy tips to help you navigate the winter months:
- Insulate Your Home: Make sure your home is well insulated to keep the cold air out. Seal any drafts around windows and doors.
- HVAC Systems: Have your heating system serviced to ensure all mechanical and electrical components are functioning properly to prevent an unfortunate failure during the cold winter months.
- Service Your Chimney: Fireplaces and chimneys are some of the biggest causes of home fires. Have them serviced and inspected annually. Make sure the inspector examines the condition of the chimney—brick periodically needs upkeep to prevent water from leaking in—as well as the cap, which keeps heat-seeking animals out.
- Clean and Inspect Gutters: Clogged gutters can cause water to back up and then freeze once temperatures drop. Keep gutters clear and properly connected to ensure that melting snow runs off your roof and through downspouts.
- Look for Ailing Tree Limbs: A dead branch covered in snow can easily snap, endangering people below and potentially causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage if it strikes a roof, a porch, or siding. Before the first snow, have a reputable tree service, landscape contractor, or arborist remove any dead or ailing limbs.
- Heating Safety: If you’re using space heaters, ensure they are in good working condition and placed away from flammable materials.
- Winterize Pipes: Prevent frozen pipes by insulating them and letting faucets drip during very cold nights.
Driving and Vehicle Prep:
- Winter Tires: Consider switching to winter tires for improved traction in snow and ice.
- Emergency Kit: Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle, including a blanket, flashlight, snacks, and a shovel.
- Check Your Battery: Cold weather can be tough on your car’s battery. Ensure it’s in good condition.
- Lights: Check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers and interior lights. Be sure to also check your trailer brake lights and turn signals, if necessary.
- Cooling System: Make sure you have enough coolant in your vehicle, and that it meets the manufacturer’s specifications. You may also want to visit your mechanic for a tune-up and ask them to check for leaks, badly worn hoses, or other needed parts, repairs, and replacements.
- Gas Up: Keep your gas tank close to full whenever possible.
- Layer Up: Dress in layers to stay warm. Don’t forget gloves, a hat, and proper footwear.
- Frequent Breaks: Take regular breaks to warm up and avoid overexertion in the cold.
- Stay Hydrated: Even in the cold, staying hydrated is essential to maintain body temperature.
- Review Worksites Every Day: Any kind of debris can pose a risk in work environments; however, it is particularly true for winter construction. Snow and ice on overhangs and rooftops should be regularly cleared to prevent falling to the ground level. Snow can also hide dangerous materials that can fall to a lower level and injure a worker.
- Ensure Adequate Ventilation: When working on the inside of structures during winter months, ensure that there is adequate ventilation for carbon monoxide or chemical fumes.
- Educate workers on the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Hypothermia: Symptoms Include:
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of coordination
- Slowed pulse and breathing
- Slurred speech.
- Alert the supervisor and request medical assistance.
- Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.
- Remove their wet clothing.
- Warm the center of their body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available, or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
- Provide warm beverages as they may help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After their body temperature has increased, keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- If the victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Frostbite: Symptoms Include:
- Reduced blood flow to hands and feet (fingers or toes can freeze)
- Tingling or stinging
- Bluish or pail, waxy skin.
- Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
- Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes-this increases the damage.
- Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
- Warm the affected area using body heat; for example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
- Do not rub or massage the frostbitten area; doing so may cause more damage.
- Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
- If you suspect frostbite, seek medical help.
Remember, safety should always come first during winter. Stay warm, stay safe, and enjoy the season!