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Serving us outside: With temperatures dropping and more employees outdoors amid COVID-19, Pinnacol advises employers to mitigate winter weather risks

February 24, 2021
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Denver — Feb. 24, 2021 — Winter isn’t over yet, and the impacts of this season’s weather are entirely new for many Colorado restaurants and retailers, which have expanded their outdoor operations to help control the spread of COVID-19. As they work to keep their employees and customers safe from the virus, more employees are working outside, perhaps for the first time.

Pinnacol, Colorado’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, encourages retailers and restaurant owners to protect their employees from winter hazards, such as an increased risk of slips, trips and falls and motor vehicle accidents, by winterizing their workplaces and providing proper training and protective equipment.

The insurer has noted a decrease in weather-related injuries for restaurant workers, potentially due to fewer workers in the workforce because of COVID-19 restrictions, but also, a concerning rise in the severity of injuries.

“Most businesses want to continue conducting business outside as long as possible,” says Pinnacol Safety Consultant Randy Philabaum. “Limited space indoors can make social distancing difficult. But increased outdoor time and smaller crews also mean winter hazards may become a greater concern for employers. Employees are exposed to weather-related risks and may be fatigued. Adopting best practices for outdoor work can keep this employee population safe from what we anticipate could be a rising number of weather-related accidents.”

Employers should continue taking steps to winterize their worksites and train workers for the remaining winter months.

Pinnacol advises employers to embrace preventive measures, such as:

Beware of slips, trips, and falls. Slips and falls are already the second-most common injury cause for restaurant workers. Colorado’s winter weather and frequent weather swings that swiftly transition from sun to frigid temperatures create an increased risk for slips and falls on ice. Remove ice and snow from all outdoor spaces, including sidewalks and curbs, several times each day. Ensure workers are aware of their surroundings, which may have changed with COVID-19-related restrictions. Outdoor spaces should be well lit and marked where surfaces change in elevation. Ensure employees wear appropriate insulated, slip-resistant winter footwear. Employers should also be mindful of indoor spaces where snow and ice tracked inside creates conditions where workers commonly slip. Using moisture-absorbing rugs and ensure crews frequently mop up.

Make outdoor spaces compatible with state regulations. Follow guidance from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create compliant outdoor dining spaces. Air out single-party structures between guests. Check Colorado’s Dial Framework to determine acceptable capacity for outdoor settings and comply with local zoning.

Follow best practices for outdoor tents and heating devices. Use properly secured wind-rated tents and remove snow accumulation that gathers on top of and around them. Get proper permits before using tents or heating devices, coordinating your efforts with your local county and fire departments. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for temporary heating and provide additional employee safety training including how the device works and what to do in case of an emergency.

Give adequate training for driving in wintry conditions. Driving is the leading cause of work-related fatalities in Colorado. Ensure your driving employees have winterized their vehicles and keep emergency kits with them. Provide driver training and guidance, especially for employees who may not usually be on the road. Discuss the importance of good vehicle maintenance, inspection, and tire condition. Share winter weather driving and safety tips.

Avoid cold stress during long shifts. Explain the signs of cold stress, such as no longer shivering, confusion, and slurred speech. Urge workers who stay outside for extended periods to wear layers of clothing and serve sweet, warm drinks during breaks to help them warm up.

Restaurants and retailers are innovating to survive the unbelievable challenges that COVID-19 presents, such as preventing spread among employees and resulting economic pressure. Philabaum notes that we hope using these preventive safety measures helps employees thrive amid historic conditions.  

Encouraging employees working outside to take precautions can help keep them stay safe this winter. Pinnacol provides a library of resources employers can use to protect employees, including a free virtual safety consultation for all businesses in Colorado, regardless of their insurer.

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