Slipping in a winter wonderland? Not if you take these steps first

By Cari Gray, BWC Industrial Safety Consultant Specialist

Here we go again – another Ohio winter. Unfortunately, for many people winter will mean more than snow, ice and shoveling; for some, it may mean concussions, bruises and broken bones.  You’ve guessed it – we’re going to talk about navigating the winter wonderland on foot and staying upright.

I work with many Ohio employers and it seems almost everyone has a story about a slip, trip or fall in snow or ice.  I have heard so many versions…walking across the parking lot into work, leaving work and walking down the sidewalk, just stepping in the front door, running to the post office for the company…on and on…and on.

The thing about slips, trips and falls in snow and ice is they can happen anywhere and anytime there is snow or ice, even if it’s only a small amount.  If the temperature is around freezing, you need to be concerned and prepared.

Often employees and employers feel helpless when it comes to this topic.  I agree, you have no control over the weather, but you are not helpless.  There are a few things you can do and say to help prevent slips, trips and falls this winter season.

First, have a PLAN. Before the first freeze, you need to have a plan for when the weather turns bad.  Know who will oversee snow and ice removal.  You may use an outside company or do the removal in-house.  Either way, have a discussion before you need services about who will do the removal, how often it will occur, and who will do inspections.  A designated employee should keep an eye on the weather and other concerns you may have about how snow will get removed and ice will be treated.

Employers can do a couple of MAINTENANCE type things to reduce the likelihood of snow and ice-related falls.  Make sure lighting is good in areas employees walk.  You need to fix and fill in holes as they appear – I know sometimes that’s a never-ending battle with the freeze/thaw around here – but try.  And, listen – make sure you listen and react when employees tell you about slip and fall concerns.  Another great tool is to do frequent inspections on slip and fall concerns.  Really – walk around (safely), including outside and look for things that you can trip or slip on – I bet you will find them (if you do – please fix them).

TRAIN your employees. I am not kidding – consider training your employees how to walk on snow and ice.  It may sound silly, but sometimes that’s what people will remember.

In trainings I’ve done in the past, I tell folks to “walk like a Duck.” They remember it (and me – sometimes people come up to me at the grocery store and say hey – you are the lady who told me to walk like a duck…it happens).

I tell them to close their eyes and envision a duck…they have their feet slightly pointed out, they go slow and they look where they are walking…that’s what you want!  Spread your feet a little wide  and keep your hands out of your pockets to increase your center of gravity.  You also never see a duck carrying a bunch of boxes or papers (or anything for that matter). Ducks are also not distracted – so have the conversation with your employees about watching where they walk and paying attention to their surroundings.

Wear the right SHOES. I know snow boots don’t always match your outfit – but lying on your back in the middle of the parking lot does not look very attractive either.  Proper footwear is so important!  If you want to wear fancy shoes (guys or gals), put them in a bag and change once you get past the parking lot and into the building.  I really like kids snow boots, they have great traction and they are so warm, but that might be taking it to far.

There is another option – they make covers that slip over your shoes to help prevent slips and falls on slippery surfaces.  They are sold at most safety supplies stores and online. I have bought them for gifts before (I know, safety geek here), but nonetheless – they work great – if you remember to put them on.

Don’t feel helpless this winter. There are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of slips, trips and falls.  Doing nothing is not an option, we must identify the safety concerns, find solutions and stick to them.  Help yourself and others stay upright on the snow and ice this season.

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