Temperatures are falling across the country as we inch closer to winter. For field service workers, this means trading in light fall work gear for winterized alternatives. Businesses in the industry will of course make adjustments too, putting into place special policies designed to protect employees exposed to the elements.
Even if you have successful strategies for addressing worker safety during the winter season, it's never a bad idea to rethink your approach and look for ways to improve. So, here are some best practices for keeping your service workers healthy over the next few months:
Acknowledge the risks
Unfortunately, some in the service industry downplay the risks that accompany working in the cold conditions. This is a dangerous approach, as long-term exposure can lead to serious or even life-threatening illnesses, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Techs are often injured as the result of these three common winter-related conditions: frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot.
Frostbite occurs when strong winds, combined with cold temperatures, come into contact with uncovered skin. Those with minor cases usually experience blistering, redness and swelling. However, individuals with bad cases sometimes require amputation. Hypothermia happens when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include confusion, increased heart rate, shivering and, in serious cases, loss of consciousness. Trench foot is similar to frostbite and normally affects workers who stand for long periods of time in water 60 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler.
Simply understanding these conditions and their symptoms can help you better protect your techs and offer appropriate medical treatment when necessary.
Understand the weather
In addition to knowing the risks, you should also have the knowledge needed to spot especially risky situations. Wind chill is the key factor, according to the Department of Labor. Outdoor temperatures may seem relatively normal but if there's a strong breeze, things will be significantly colder, producing working conditions that could lead to injury. For instance, if you're in the Midwest, you and your techs may be used to subzero temperatures, as the region is known for its harsh winters. However, the addition of a five mile per hour breeze can make minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit feel like minus 22. In these conditions, frostbite can occur in 30 minutes.
The best way to protect your employees is to familiarize yourself with the effects of wind chill. Additionally, encourage your staff to wear appropriate protective gear. Techs should wear three layers and stick to fabrics like silk or wool, as these retain heat even when wet. Of course, hats, hoods and waterproof boots are must-haves. On top of that, ask your field workers to take more breaks when working in cold weather.
Address winter driving
Chances are, most of your techs use service trucks to get around. Now, while these vehicles do come with heating systems and provide protection from strong winter winds, they still pose some risks. Driving on roads covered in ice and snow is no easy task, so be sure those behind the wheel can handle themselves when things get slippery. And, before any techs go out, inspect your vehicles to make sure they are up to par – focus specifically on the heating system, headlights, taillights and windshield wipers.
Additionally, stock your trucks with emergency gear like blankets, emergency flares, jumper cables and a radio. These items could save the lives of your staff should any become stranded in their vehicles.
With winter approaching, you must give your field service workers the knowledge and equipment they need to navigate the cold.