During a winter storm, sidewalk crews are essential to snow clearing operations. They aren’t afraid to brave the cold and efficiently get the job done. In order to safely perform in the field, here are some guidelines to avoid hazards and be prepared.
- Cold & Low Visibility: Protective equipment such as insulated boots and gloves; layers of waterproof and breathable clothing; high-visibility jackets or vests; and of course, warm socks and a hat are crucial. Be prepared for any event with extra gear in case it gets wet.
- Uneven Surfaces: Hidden obstacles like raised sidewalks or manholes can cause injuries. Keep an eye out for these uneven surfaces to avoid tripping or falling.
- Traffic & Low Clearance: It’s important to face oncoming vehicle traffic so both you and the driver can clearly see each other. Watch for signs, structures, or low-hanging branches that may cause harm to sidewalk crews.
- Safe Shoveling: Use signage to bring attention to the crews at work. Take the proactive approach by stretching before and after shoveling and try to push snow rather than lifting it. In the event that you need to lift the snow, use your knees rather than your back and take breaks often to reduce overexertion.
Cold Stress Factors, Treatment & Prevention
Hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot are real concerns for sidewalk crews exposed to precipitation, wind, and cold temperatures. Know the warning signs that may impact someone on your team and report any instances to a supervisor.
- Hypothermia: This can be caused when normal body temperatures drop to 95-degrees or less. Symptoms may be slurred speech, shivering stops, confusion, bluish skin, slow heart rate and/or loss of consciousness. It’s important to move the worker to a warm place immediately, remove any damp clothing and cover the body as much as possible without covering the face. Applying heat packs to the armpits, chest, and groin along with drinking warm fluids will help improve the person’s conditions.
- Frostbite: Wind chill and below freezing temperatures can cause body tissues like hands, feet, or your face to freeze. You may notice numbness, reddened skin that has gray/white patches, or firm and blistering skin. You should treat the worker by removing wet clothing and apply dry layers along with heat packs. DO NOT rub the frostbitten area, walk, apply water or break blisters that may have formed.
- Trench Foot: After lengthy exposure to wet, cold environments, it can cause redness, swelling, numbness, and blistering to feet. You will want to seek medical attention and immediately remove wet socks/shoes, elevate feet and avoid walking.
The best approach, is a preventative one—dress in recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), attempt to take breaks in warm conditions, drink warm liquids like coffee or tea and take safety precautions at all times.
Originally written by SIMA and SnowEx®.