8 December Safety Topics For A Safer Holiday Season At Work

As we enter the holiday season and start getting in the Christmas mood, it’s crucial to think about how staff and families might be affected during this time. There are very often additional responsibilities and lots of at-home tasks for everyone to catch up. Or think about. Or even worry about. All of this can affect workplace performance and employee safety.

With this in mind, we prepared a list of the most important December safety topics and safety tips to consider. If you’re looking for toolbox talk ideas, these may be helpful. 

The biggest safety concerns during the holidays

When it comes to the festive season, there are additional safety concerns to think about. There are changes in weather and driving habits, shifts in work/life balance and, often, additional strains on the families. Without further ado, here are some of the biggest safety concerns during the holiday season.

Drunk and drowsy driving

On the topic of driving to and from the workplace and within the workplace itself, drunk and drowsy driving is at its peak across the holidays. Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation has shown that an average of 300 people die in drunk driving crashes in the week between Christmas and New Year. This is, of course, heightened during the month itself, with Christmas parties and celebrations.

Drowsy driving can be as a result of many things including working overtime in the busy December period; having friends and family visit; or even just the exhaustion of preparing food, presents and everything else required for Christmas. All of these and many other factors can lead to dangerous driving when employees get behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle at work. 

Drowsy drivers are far less aware of hazards and have longer braking distances. 

By the way, drivers who have to get up early will be more at risk of drowsy driving. 

Fatigue

Similar to the previous point, drowsiness and fatigue can cause issues both in and outside of the workplace. And, because it’s a busy season, you should take extra precautions with staff. Whether they’re on production lines, construction sites or operating heavy machinery, employees should look out for the signs of fatigue to prevent workplace accidents.

It’s important to remember in the case of fatigue, that winter illnesses such as cold, flu and sore throat also lead to tiredness. Staff with cough, temperature and other similar symptoms may have slower reactions.

Holiday stress 

The holiday season is very stressful for many families. This can be as a result of working more, having more to do at home, worrying about finances, eating and drinking too much or simply feelings of loneliness. To support your employees through this time — and, ideally, around the year — make sure that they have someone to speak to. Give them more opportunities to rest and don’t stimulate working long hours or taking on extra work.

Download December safety topics by OSHA

Now we’ve understood some of the risk factors for your employees in the workplace, below are some key safety moment of the day ideas for December. Based on the OSHA site, these might be applicable to home, the workplace or both. In any case, you have to consider both, because they affect one another.

Safety Topic Links to OSHA Guidelines & Articles 
Safe DrivingOSHA Motor Vehicle Guide
OSHA Safety Driving Practices
(Preventing) FatiguePrevent Worker Fatigue
OSHA: Worker Fatigue Prevention
(Worker) Fatigue OSHA: Worker Fatigue Hazards
OSHA: Worker Fatigue Limitations
Winter WeatherOSHA: Winter Weather Hazards & Precautions
OSHA: Winter Weather Guide

More December safety topics ideas

Idea #1: Distracted driving

With so much going on at work and home during the winter holidays, it can be easy to get distracted. Distractions can cause severe and fatal accidents when commuting to and from work or operating heavy machinery at work. Besides, due to the changes in weather, there may be additional things to think about such as snow, ice and black ice on the roads. 

Distracted driving is more dangerous in the winter, compared to other seasons. 

The first step to prevent it is to train all employees to inspect their vehicles and ensure winter-readiness. Also, make sure that they’re appropriately instructed on how to drive and operate vehicles in winter weather conditions. Finally, check if the emergency kits are available to deal with any issues.

Emergency kits for the winter for vehicles should include:

  • Blankets, gloves and a hat 
  • Water and snacks
  • Emergency flares
  • Jumper cables and a tow chain
  • A flashlight and batteries
  • A snow brush, ice scraper and shovel 
  • An emergency cell phone or radio

Idea #2: Work zone traffic safety

As we know, work zone traffic safety is critical at all times of the year. But it’s even more so if there is a possibility for vehicles to skid on ice or lose control. Make sure that your employees have the right protective gear and high-vis jackets available to avoid workplace accidents and fatalities. Also, check that the appropriate traffic control measures are in place and working. 

Idea #3: Shoveling snow

Shoveling snow may sound like a preventative measure for accidents. But it can also cause issues such as dehydration, injuries or even heart attacks. Make sure that your staff are taking precautions to avoid this with regular breaks. 

Remind workers to push the snow (instead of lifting it).

OSHA has key guidelines on snow removal and the relevant hazards on their website, with a short infographic that you can print off and share with your team.

Idea #4: Working at heights

Besides being an important construction toolbox topic, working at heights is also very applicable to the festive season. From decorating and shoveling snow to using ladders and scaffolding, knowledge on this topic is crucial. That’s why it’s a good practice to remind your employees of the additional hazards to look out for. 

Electrical safety and ladder safety are two big topics you may want to talk about here. For example, electrical hazards and skylights can be hidden by blankets of snow or hard to see in poor weather conditions. Or some types of ladders can be particularly dangerous when there is snow or ice. 

Idea #5: Preventing slips on snow and ice

Preventing slips, trips and falls is on our list of 100 + safety topics for a daily toolbox talk, and for a reason. It’s a key topic. But it becomes even more important in the winter season.

So, impress upon your employees the importance of proper footwear with good rubber treads, or even rubber over-shoes, for extra protection. Make sure that there are procedures to prevent injuries and your staff is aware of them. 

Idea #6: Cold stress – trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia

Cold stress can mean different things in different geographical regions. In essence, it occurs when the internal body temperature is lowered by environmental factors. When the body reaches the point where it’s unable to warm itself, it’s under cold stress. You can go as far as to consider this condition a type of near miss because it can have serious consequences such as permanent tissue damage or even death. Frostbite, hypothermia and trench foot can often be the results of cold stress. Make sure that all workers who are exposed to cold weather are aware of cold stress symptoms and can act immediately to prevent them. 

OSHA has a “Quick Card” you refer to for the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. It’s a printable document you can share at your next safety chat.

Idea #7: Repairing downed or damaged power lines

Unfortunately, repairing downed or damaged power lines holds a plethora of hazards including electrocution, fires, or colleagues being struck by falling trees and poles. So, PPE, hazard analysis and extra caution are essential. It’s also worth reiterating the use of appropriate tools and safe work practices when it comes to dealing with both energized and unenergized power lines.

Idea #8: Removing downed trees

Similarly to downed and damaged power lines, downed trees are also a major hazard. This can include falls from heights, injuries from equipment used such as chainsaws. Electrocution is also a possibility if the trees are in contact with downed energized power lines. Again, these can be hidden by blankets of snow. 

When it comes to downed tree safety, make sure that your staff is up-to-date with the latest chainsaw safety guidelines to keep them and those around them safe. 

Conclusion

While safety is critical at all points of the year, there are additional hazards to consider in the holiday season. We hope our list of December safety topics (and ideas) will help you keep your team up-to-date. If they know the key hazards to look out for and wear the right PPE, there is a much smaller chance of workplace injuries and incidents in the colder months.

References and further reading