Time to Plan Against Hypothermia

September 6, 2021

Wait – how can this be? What issue am I reading? We are in a heat wave! Hypothermia? Yes. Now is the time to plan your employee training schedule and plan how you will bring in your autumn and winter crews, with the next season in mind.

Autumn heralds winter’s arrival, and with that, we turn from keeping an eye on employee health and safety regarding heat related issues such as dehydration, or sunburns, or poison ivy, and turn to understanding the ways we need to avoid troublesome or dangerous health conditions related to low temps rather than our high summer temps.

The more we train our employees to know what to look for and how to avoid autumn and winter health and safety situations, the better employee attendance, and productivity will be.

We have typically put a lot of time and attention in spring and summer seasonal hires and onboarding process involving our company expectations and safety protocols about operating equipment or safety gear to wear onsite. Now is the time to totally shift gears and prepare for how company expectations and safety protocols pertain to wet weather and cold temperatures.

snowplow web

Operating equipment such as trucks with snow plows seems like an adventure the first few times for many employees. Sometimes there’s an excitement and a disregard for the demands placed on our bodies, while it seems we’re just driving a truck we’re used to driving, but with a plow on it now. You may have done some advanced scouting of properties so drivers on plow routes can become familiar before there’s snow with where the driveway bends a bit, or a stand of bushes needs to be avoided when dumping a load of snow. But don’t disregard the importance of encouraging employees to maintain good sleep hygiene and to curtail social activities that could impinge on the time needed to plow. The lack of sleep will catch up, and that is when mistakes can be made. From not doing a pre-route thorough examination of the vehicle, to hurrying from one job site to another to plow and hurry back home to a warm bed, protocols you expect as the employer (and are hopefully modeling) will be evident as you get complaint calls, or worse yet, see some nominal damage to vehicles or equipment.

The National Safety Council recommends winter vehicle safety tips such as keeping the gas tank at least half full to avoid gas lines freezing. Do you encourage each driver to maintain that level, and provide adequate time on the clock to do so? Have you stocked up on wiper fluid rated for -30F? Have you replaced wiper blades and even considered blades with extra snow load capability? Consider involving employees in the maintenance required on the vehicles so they will understand what you mean when you are asking if they are ready for snow. Some people hear that question, “Are you ready for snow?” and their minds go to ski trips, snowmobiling, backyard bon fires, and the overtime they may accrue during the anticipated blizzard conditions. Make sure safety considerations are firmly in place and aligned with your company’s policies and protocols.

Now is the time to check emergency preparedness kits, according to not only the National Safety Council, but to many large driving associations and OSHA. Reflective triangles in case of breakdowns or on vehicles simply for visibility, may have become cracked or encrusted with eroding salt brines since the last time they were used.
Other recommendations from seasoned tow truck companies, as well as the American Automobile Association and the California Highway Patrol, include keeping high-energy foods such as nutrition bars, packets of nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy on hand. These items (knock on wood) could be helpful for morale as well as beneficial in case of waiting for help if the truck is stranded in bad driving conditions. Sugar and protein are welcomed in the event of any extra time in the vehicle which was unanticipated.

Nowadays, not only a battery charger but also a cell phone charger are a given. And, while we are thinking of what to make sure is included in every vehicle you and your employees use in the winter, include a brightly colored safety vest, in case anyone has to walk out in the miserable conditions for any reason.

Any other favorite items to include for your employees driving your vehicles in the snow? What’s your favorite item to include after some horror story, such as that employee who had some kitty litter on hand to help get some traction when on an icy driveway? Share those real life stories when you have your autumn and winter meetings with your staff, so they see what can happen to anybody, could happen to everybody.

As for hypothermia. . .check the OSHA website for the training videos and posters you can download and post in your employee break room. Remember there are many learning styles, and some of your staff want to read the information you want to share and some are more effective at processing what you say to them during these informative meetings. You might consider some of the training videos offered through organizations specializing in safe snow removal along with the OSHA health and safety videos about causes of hypothermia and ways to avoid it. Some of the training programs you find are available free of charge and employees could view them anytime day or night, as convenient, long before the winter conditions set in.

As a conscientious employer and as a member of NHLA, it’s important for all of us to model our expectations and to ensure the health and safety of our employees. You might consider incentives, such as rewards or citations of some sort for viewing safety videos or for offering suggestions they may have, from the frontlines, to help improve situations they have seen firsthand. Rewarding suggestions and listening to suggestions and fresh ideas are ways we can ensure the values we set forth as NHLA members in this industry ensure that the profession grows and involves new members coming through the ranks and carrying on the NHLA tradition.

— by Cris Blackstone, NHCLP

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