8 Key January Safety Topics + Top Winter Safety Tips
One of the most impactful ways of delivering your toolbox talks and safety training is by choosing a relevant safety topic. In June, July or August, you may choose safety topics such as dehydration and heatstroke. Similarly, safety talks around the cold weather, fall prevention and driving in the snow are much more relevant and more likely to stick in the minds of your colleagues in the winter months such as November.
In January and February, the focus is still very much on the weather, colder temperatures and COVID-19. After the holiday season, you might find that your staff struggle to get back into the swing of things on their return to work. Standards may slip, safety rules may be ignored (or forgotten!) and circumstances may have changed during the break. So, it’s important to start the month with a recap.
If your staff are feeling sluggish, try easing them back slowly with some fun content such as these OSHA violation memes.
Read on for some inspiration on topics to cover, resources and your responsibilities as a safety leader.
How to prepare for a blizzard and other winter storms
One of the main safety hazards in January is the cold weather. Causing blizzards, winter storms, snow and ice, the weather in the winter creates extra considerations when it comes to safety. While there are no specific standards from OSHA on working in the cold, employers have a responsibility to create a safe and hazard-free environment.
One of the critical parts of this is preparing for blizzards and storms. Not only the impact of working outside during (or prior to) an incoming storm, but the potential risks involved with storms such as:
Downed power lines
Slippery surfaces such as ladders
Icy roads, including black ice
Therefore, it’s very important to make sure this topic is covered as soon as it can be in January, to prepare your workers.
Winter weather precautions
Similar to preparing for bad weather, the cold temperatures will undoubtedly affect your workplace in one way or another.
One of the most critical things when it comes to cold weather is ensuring that your workers — particularly those that work outside regularly — are familiar with the hazards. In this case, we mean the signs of hypothermia and the signs of frostbite in themselves as well as in their colleagues. Cold stress is another frequently seen issue, which can affect anyone who is in a cold and windy environment.
Risk factors include:
Being wet and/or cold for extended periods of time
A cold body temperature
Lack of effective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Underlying health conditions
Lack of fitness
As an employer, your responsibilities include creating buddy systems, scheduling frequent short breaks and providing warm, sweet beverages. For a full list of your responsibilities for cold stress prevention under the OSH Act of 1970, you can review OSHA’s preparedness guidelines.
If you’re not sure where to start when speaking to your employees about the signs and added risks of cold weather, OSHA has some excellent winter weather resources available including this helpful flashcard which covers the topic in full.
Winter PPE review
Not only is identifying the signs of weather-induced ailments important, but it’s your responsibility to ensure that your staff have the right PPE for their jobs. This includes access to warm clothing, considerations around wet clothing and PPE that supports circulation.
Again, the cold month of January brings a range of added risks, and winter driving is one of the areas where accidents can easily happen. Preparedness is key, and it’s important to ensure that your workers have the right training, resources and tools available to tackle driving in the winter.
The three P’s of safe winter driving are Prepare, Protect and Prevent, and this is a catchy safety slogan that you can use when covering this safety topic. As an employer, you should ensure that your drivers all have the following available in their emergency kits:
Blankets, gloves and a hat
Water and snacks
Jumper cables and a tow chain
A flashlight and batteries
A snow brush, ice scraper and shovel
An emergency cell phone or radio.
Carbon monoxide poisoning
While you might not have considered this topic, January is the deadliest month for carbon monoxide poisoning. Because it’s so fatal and often starts without warning, protecting your workers against it is vital.
Sources of exposure include:
Portable generators and heaters
The use of concrete cutting saws and gas-powered equipment
As a safety leader, it’s your responsibility to keep your staff well-trained, safe and away from unsafe conditions. Here are a few tips to get you on the right track this year.
Update your workplace safety plan for the new year
It’s important to start by reviewing and updating (as needed) your workplace safety plan. Now that December is over and the previous year has finished, you can calculate your TRIR for the year, and compare this to the industry average. If it’s higher than your peer companies, start with creating a plan of action to reduce this.
A new year also means that you can make a fresh start. If you’re concerned that your safety training has been lacking previously, or that it’s robust but your workers don’t seem to absorb what you say in your toolbox tools, it’s worth considering a new approach to safety. One such approach would be creating a successful safety incentive program, in order to drive a culture of safety in your organisation.
Upgrade your workers’ footwear
One critical thing to review in January and at the beginning of the year is Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and, in particular, footwear. Worn-in or ill-fitting footwear can contribute to accidents such as slips, trips and falls. And, wet feet can lead to frostbite. Due to the added risks in the colder months of cold, snow and ice, this is a good place to start to keep your workers safe.
Review your hazard identifications and assessments
Again, January is a good time to review your hazard identification and assessments as these may have evolved since last year. In particular, anything “non-routine” such as COVID-19 regulations. As these change so quickly in America and globally, reviewing them should be a priority because the situation is ever-changing. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your workers have safe working conditions at all times.
January is National Radon Action Month
Finally, it’s important to acknowledge National Radon Action Month in January. The goal of this is outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who encourage homes, schools and workplaces to test their indoor air for radon. As the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers in the United States, it kills around 21,000 people annually. It’s a preventable health risk, but you can’t see or smell radon.
So, it’s crucial to not only make checks within the workplace, but to encourage your workers to test the radon levels within their homes, too.
What’s your 2021 safety resolution?
One easy way to get started with your January safety topics is by asking workers for their 2021 safety resolutions. Encourage this by sharing your own. This may include something like committing to wearing the right socks, to always clean up spillages or to be more aware of the health of your colleagues. It doesn’t have to be a large-scale commitment, but you can check in throughout the year on everyone’s progress. It also gives you an opportunity to remind them of their resolution regularly.
While safety is an evergreen topic, January is a particularly key month due to the added hazards due to the weather. We recommend starting the year with your colleagues by recapping the safety fundamentals before they start work after the holiday season. After this, it’s important to review your data from the previous year, calculate your TRIR rates and ensure that you’re up-to-date with the latest safety regulations and legislation.