As Winter settles in on us we need to be prepared to work safely in the impending cold weather which includes driving in less than perfect conditions created by the cold weather.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2021 there were 395 fatal crashes with an estimated 22,325 injury crashes in the United States with snow and sleet conditions present and presumed to be one of the causes of these fatal and injury crashes.

NHTSA recommends that driver slow down during snow and/or sleet conditions as it is harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. It is important to increase the distance between you and the vehicles ahead of you so that you have time to react to the vehicles and have enough time to stop, slow down, or steer away from the vehicles ahead of you. Another big obstacle which is absolutely necessary on the road during the winter weather are snowplow trucks. It is important to not crowd a snowplow or travel beside the snowplow truck. The drivers of the snowplow trucks have limited vision and blind spots due to the size of the snowplow trucks. These trucks usually drive slower than the posted speed limit, may make unexpected turns, may stop often, make wide sweeping turns, overlap lanes, and exit the road frequently. If you are behind a snowplow, stay far enough behind it so the driver can see you in the sideview mirrors. Generally, if you cannot see the trucks side view mirrors, then the truck driver cannot see you. Increase the distance between you and the snowplow truck in front of you so you can see their sideview mirrors. If it is necessary to pass a snowplow truck, use extreme caution, use your turn signals, and pass quickly at a safe speed for the road conditions.

Emergencies arising from your vehicle becoming disabled or sliding to the side of the road or in a worse situation, it is important to stay focused on your safety, your passengers safety, your car, and your surroundings. Stay with your car or in your car if it is safe to do so. Conserve your energy by not overexerting yourself trying to “dig yourself out” or push your car by yourself. It is better to wait for help to arrive from professionals from a reputable towing or recovery service. If you are outside of your vehicle, make sure you can be seen by having a flashlight and/or wearing a high visibility reflective vest which should be part of an emergency kit in your vehicle. It is important that in an emergency that your car can be seen by having bright markers on the antenna or windows, keeping the exterior lights/flashers on, and/or keeping the interior dome light on. While waiting in your vehicle, be mindful of the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning. To prevent this possible hazard, keep the exhaust pipe clear of any snow, run your vehicle only long enough to stay warm and not for long periods of time with the windows up as it is an enclosed space. Roll the windows down slightly to allow fresh air to enter the vehicle.

Winter weather affects not just the roadways, it can affect the vehicle. The tires can “lose” air as the temperature deceases, the air pressure in the tires decreases causing the tires to be below the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. It is important to keep the tires filled to manufacturer’s recommendations. This information is in the vehicle owner’s manual and on a label located on the driver’s side door frame. Do not inflate tires to the pressure listed on the tire itself as that is a
maximum pressure not the vehicle manufacturer recommended pressure. You should periodically inspect the tires (including the spare tire) such as monthly and before long road trips. You should check the tires when they’re cold, meaning that they have not been driven on for at least three hours checking for damage or other conditions, tread and sidewalls for any cuts, punctures, bulges, scrapes, cracks, or bumps, and that the tread has at least 2/32 of an inch or greater on all tires. Cold temperatures adversely affect batteries in the vehicles as the temperature drops, so does battery power. Gasoline and diesel engines take more battery power to start in cold weather. Electric and hybrid-electric vehicles’ driving range may be less due to the cold weather. It is important and necessary to check your battery, charging system, and belts for any needed repairs or replacements.

In preparation for winter weather, it is important to check your headlights, brake lights, turn signals, emergency flashers, interior lights, trailer brake lights and turn signals. Your windshield wipers are very important so you can see where your are driving so keeping the wipers in good condition ready for winter duty. You should keep your windshield washer fluid level high using “winter” fluid/de-icer, make sure your window defrosters work correctly, and that your cooling system is topped off with fresh coolant and is not leaking.

Another important preparation for winter weather driving is to have your vehicle stocked with essential supplies for common winter driving-related tasks and emergencies. Supplies include a snow shovel, broom, an ice scraper, abrasive material (sand or kitty litter) in case your vehicle gets stuck in the snow or ice, jumper cables, flashlight, warning devices (flares and emergency markers), blankets for protection from the cold, cell phone, charger, water, food, and medicine. It is important to gas up or plug it in to keep the fuel tank close to full or to keep the electric and hybrid-electric vehicles batteries charged. You should plug your vehicle in at night during the winter – keeping the battery in its optimal temperature ranges.

If you must travel during extreme winter weather, plan your route by checking local weather and traffic reports. If roads are not in good shape, consider postponing non-essential travel until the roads are cleared. If you must travel, prepare in case of being delayed while traveling, consider leaving early or changing your departure time to avoid being on the roads during the worst of the storm, and be familiar with directions and route.

Because many workers are exposed to the cold weather as a consequence of their job such as construction workers, or oil or gas field workers, or other outdoor workers, it is imperative that workers are protected from the cold weather. Winter weather can expose outdoor workers to frostbite, hypothermia, and other cold stresses. The air temperature and the wind speed are the two main elements that cause wind chill so it is important for the workers to know the wind chill temperature which can be obtained by watching the local news or viewing a weather app.
Know the wind chill temperature to better prepare to work safely. The National Weather Service Wind Chill Chart is also a good tool to have posted.

Cold injuries occur most easily affecting the face, ears, fingers, toes, and other unprotected skin. So that cold weather injuries can be prevented, it is important for workers to know the symptoms of cold stress injuries such as, yet not limited to, reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness, and/or blisters on the affected area(s).

To prevent cold injuries, workers should dress for the weather which includes wearing layers of loose-fitting clothing that traps the air between the layers and the body keeps that air warm which keeps the body warm. As the temperature or activities increase, a layer can be removed to maintain a comfortable body temperature. Wearing insulated gloves and boots, covering the head and face also will reduce the likelihood of a cold injury. Workers should monitor their own physical condition for the symptoms of cold injuries as well as watch their coworkers for these same symptoms, knowing what to do to get themselves or a coworker assistance should they be experiencing a cold injury. Other prevention methods include staying dry and packing extra clothes as moisture can increase heat loss from the body, taking frequent breaks in warm, dry areas, and drinking warm non-caffeinated, non-alcohol liquids.

There is more information on cold weather injury prevention available on the OSHA Safety and Health Topics: Winter Weather at

For more information and/or assistance, contact:
Wayne Vanderhoof CSP, CIT
Sr. Consultant/President
RJR Safety Inc.

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