This winter, don’t let safety go slip-sliding away

by on January 11, 2011 · 4 Comments POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
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Winter is a great time for slipping and sliding on ice and snow, and it can be lots of fun if you’re skating, sledding or skiing. But if somebody’s trying to work, and instead is literally falling down on the job, it’s not so much fun. Workers get hurt, and companies pay out in workers comp claims or even negligence lawsuits.

Beware severe weather
Experienced Safety Directors already know the basics of slip-and-fall prevention. But it still can pay to check out a few recent court cases where workers slipped and fell. What you’ll learn will help you double-check your slip-and-fall prevention system – especially now that we’re into the season of severe winter weather across much of the country.

1. Watch out for less lighting
Legal key: In winter months, some areas of your facility will be less sunlit than other times of the year.

Example: A warehouse relied heavily on windows to let in natural light. During the darkest days of winter, a worker failed to see an obstacle in a shadowed area of the warehouse, slipped and fell. He sued, and the company was unable to prove it had the required lighting (10 foot-candles in New York state).

The company tried to show from pictures taken that day that there was sufficient lighting. But the judge said he had “no idea what 10 [foot] candles look like” and refused to dismiss the case, leaving the company with a choice of either continuing an expensive legal defense or settling the lawsuit.

Bottom line: Since slips and falls are caused not only by loss of floor traction, but by failure to spot obstacles, you may want to make sure you make up for any less sunlight with artificial lighting. Bright artificial lighting will prevent accidents – and eliminate the need for you to take light measurements for a legal case after someone gets hurt. Watch out for outdoor stairs as well as any areas normally illuminated by natural light.

2. Act quickly
Legal key: You have time to remove snow and water, but you’re expected to act as soon as possible.

Example: A maintenance crew was cleaning up after a snowstorm. A pedestrian walked by the facility before the area was fully cleared. She slipped, fell and sued.

The company had documentation that it began clean-up early in the morning after an overnight storm, and state law gave it time to clean up. Case dismissed.

Bottom line: Get started as quickly as possible after severe weather. Make sure you protect against slips both outside (snow, ice and water removal) and inside (from people tracking in water). Documentation helps make your case.

3. Check the safety gear
Legal key: Workers conducting a cleanup need to have the proper safety gear, especially heavy workboots so they’ll have enough traction.
Example: A New York worker slipped and fell while cleaning up after a snow storm. He argued that he was thrown to the wolves because he wasn’t wearing the proper shoes for the job – a foreman told him to start cleaning and not worry about his shoes. A judge refused to dismiss.
Bottom line: Make sure anyone on cleanup duty has the proper equipment. In this case, a supervisor’s desire to start work quickly put a worker in harm’s way.

4. Stay on top of changes
Legal key: If you can show you are aware of weather-related slip hazards, and take steps to prevent them, you’ll protect your company in court.
Example: A supervisor noticed the facility’s front steps were iced up first thing in the morning. She put down some salt, and documented the time she did it. However, she assumed the day would get warmer – it didn’t. The steps froze about two hours later, and a retired woman fell and hurt her back.
The court sided with the company, saying the supervisor was monitoring the situation, and the company had no knowledge the steps would suddenly ice up.
Bottom line: The company was legally protected here by the supervisor’s actions, but waiting a couple of hours to follow up led to a serious injury.
If possible, monitor icy conditions more closely than this supervisor did, and don’t assume that daylight means warmer weather.

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4 Comments on This Post

  1. LenoreD
    February 9, 2011 - 7:49 pm

    Along with maintaining an accident free environment are there any regulations requiring the employer to maintain a certain temperature in the office. We are restricted using the heat and our location has been unbearable even with our thermal wear on. We were told if we raise the heat a lock will be put on for further restrictions. Numerous complaints are occurring

    • Anonymous
      February 9, 2011 - 10:06 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We can’t respond to questions about specific
      situations or provide legal advice, but we invite other readers to post
      comments or responses to this question. We encourage you to seek guidance
      from your HR department or, for legal questions, consult an attorney.

  2. LenoreD
    February 9, 2011 - 7:49 pm

    Along with maintaining an accident free environment are there any regulations requiring the employer to maintain a certain temperature in the office. We are restricted using the heat and our location has been unbearable even with our thermal wear on. We were told if we raise the heat a lock will be put on for further restrictions. Numerous complaints are occurring

    • Anonymous
      February 9, 2011 - 10:06 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We can’t respond to questions about specific
      situations or provide legal advice, but we invite other readers to post
      comments or responses to this question. We encourage you to seek guidance
      from your HR department or, for legal questions, consult an attorney.

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