In your average fabrication or machine shop, there are what one might consider conventional hazards. They exist in many forms and are relatively common. Most workers are educated enough to understand what they are and how to protect themselves, but those hazards can change with the seasons, becoming more dangerous and likely to cause an injury.
Consider a grated steel walkway, for example. During the warmer months, the walkway may be slippery for a short while when moisture is present, but it’s generally safe to traverse. In the colder months — especially in areas that are exposed to the outdoors — the same walkway can become a death trap due to ice buildup, snow or even damp conditions.
What are some cold weather safety tips you and your workers should know? What can be done to better protect your machine shop and workforce in these conditions?
1. Conduct a facility and job hazard analysis
Job hazard analysis is a process that requires you to research and review potential hazards in the workplace before something bad happens. Essentially, there are a series of procedures one must follow to measure the overall safety of a facility or work environment.
It begins with a walk-through of the entire facility. During the tour, you must continuously assess existing safety measures, as well as potential hazards that might have gone undetected. Next, you must come up with ways to deal with the dangers and risks that are apparent. Then, you must assign protect controls, and document both your current plans and future goals for improving on-site safety.
In short, you’re building a safety plan and taking action against the most egregious hazards to prevent future events or injuries.
2. Create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
As part of OSHA’s requirements, every business or workplace with more than 10 employees must create and maintain a written emergency action plan. You likely have something in place already, but unless it takes into account cold weather and winter preparedness, you must revisit.
For cold weather, consider what new seasonal hazards might appear. Think about how the climate and temperature will affect existing hazards and consider how much worse they might be as a result. Create a plan for unexpected events like power outages or climate-control failures — it can get below freezing in some shops when the heat is off.
Finally, review the entire plan with your workforce and establish proper training protocols to get them acclimated to their responsibilities. An emergency drill might help workers identify who is involved with what task during a major event. Where should everyone go? Who is doling out supplies? Who is in charge?
3. Assess temperature-related risks
Constant exposure to cold or freezing temperatures takes its toll on the body. While not all machine shops have this problem, there are some that will. It’s important to assess cold weather and temperature conditions to ensure your workers have the appropriate gear available. Hypothermia and frostbite are major concerns for anyone exposed to cold.
Personal protective equipment, for instance, might need to be insulated to offer additional warmth. Space heaters might be necessary to warm up certain areas or keep workers comfortable. More frequent breaks may be warranted to get workers back into a warmer space, at least for a few minutes.
4. Monitor equipment and machines
It’s difficult to tell how certain hardware and machines are going to react to extreme temperature changes. Certain materials may break, warp or weaken under cold temperatures. Therefore, it’s necessary to monitor and constantly assess equipment within a fabrication shop to ensure safety is preserved.
You don’t want one of your workers injured by a piece of machinery because it gave out during a temperature drop. This also highlights the need to monitor temperatures within a shop, to ensure ideal conditions are met for various hardware and gear. Understand what operating conditions and temperatures are ideal for active equipment.
5. Dynamic hazard warnings
The steel walkway example from the intro highlights that some areas of a shop or facility may become more dangerous under cold weather conditions. It becomes crucial to warn and actively divert people away from affected areas. With regular hazards, this is done through permanent signage, training and other visual indicators, like blocking off a room or area.
For temporary hazards that might appear during seasonal events, it’s necessary to come up with a dynamic warning system. It has to be better than just placing a few cones on the walkway or leaving a “slippery when wet” sign nearby. Those warnings can help, but you must build a culture around dynamic warnings. Holding morning meetings where you point out potential hazards for the day is an excellent example. Developing new shortcuts or pass-through areas to detour around hazardous ones is another good idea.
6. Streamline cleanup and snow removal
When snow builds up around a home, homeowners spend time clearing out the most important areas like their driveway or sidewalk. This keeps the area clean and looking nice, and it also prevents accidents such as slips or falls.
The same should be done in and around your facility. There should be a team in place — maybe maintenance or janitorial crews — to streamline cleanup. If there’s snow around a heavily trafficked walkway, it’s important to clean it up. If ice appears or snow has melted to create a wet surface, it should be cleaned up as soon as possible.
Play It Safe: Get everyone home
Not unlike other industrial settings, the average fabrication shop can be a dangerous place to work — especially under extreme conditions like those presented by cold, winter weather. If you play your cards right, prepare properly and continuously address potential problems, you can be sure everyone will get home safe to their families at the end of their shift.