This article was first published by Graphic Products, Inc., and is republished here with prior written permission. Copyright © 2020. Graphic Products, Inc.

By Christine Torres

As the weather cools down, workplaces will turn up the heat. Whether working indoors or outside, step up safety around supplemental heating sources.

Are you starting to get cold fingers and toes? This is the time of year when as the outdoors cool down, we all find ways to heat up. Cold weather is already settling in for most of the U.S., with record-low temperatures hitting several states. Already, people are turning to their heaters for comfort as well as outdoor warming stations, space heaters, fireplaces, and wood or coal stoves. Each heating method harbors hazards. Workplaces can use simple best practices to keep workers safe this winter while using alternative heating sources.

Withstanding the Elements

Whether inside a plant or out on the oceanside, many workers say the wind-chill factor is probably the worst part about working in winter. Tiffany Roth, a safety professional in Alaska, said movement, heat station breaks, and proper cold-weather gear are pertinent. “If we need to, we shift out work in 15-minute increments. Work for 15; warm-up for 15. Sometimes we can tolerate more. Depends on that wind chill,” she said.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, space heaters each year are responsible for more than 25,000 fires, 300 deaths, and 6,000 burn injuries. Air pollution aside, the EPA says 150 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year from wood stoves, which also have a highrisk for burn injuries. When not controlled, heating hazards can result in property damage as well.

During a cold morning in 2015, a group of gas workers was using an open-flame heater to keep warm. Suddenly, a fire erupted, killing three and injuring two others. That same year at another company, an electric heater ignited flammable gas, which severely injured two workers and sent several other workers to a hospital.

“Two employees suffered painful injuries that put them out of work for three months,” said Judy Freeman at OSHA in Kansas. “Failing to eliminate potential ignition sources from areas where flammable substances were likely to be present proved an explosive combination. Worker protection must always be job one.”

Heat Protection

The example incidents are just a few that demonstrate the consequences of unsafe supplemental heating sources. Here are several tips to reinforce heating safety and keep workers warm in the workplace – indoors and outside.

  • Job Hazard Analysis: A first step, check areas for potential fuel sources such as rugs, materials, electrical hazards, chemicals, and paper. Make sure heating equipment is at least three feet away from objects and laid upon a stable and level surface. Never leave space heaters and other types of devices unattended.
  • Planning and Training: Create a fire escape plan, set up a safe meeting place, and go over plans with workers. Test smoke alarm systems. Make sure they are in all rooms.
  • Update Equipment: Throw out that heater from 1967. Look for newer models that shut off automatically as an added safety feature. Have equipment professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.
  • PPE: It’s all about layers. Workers need personal protective equipment that helps during the cold temperatures indoors and outside. Protect extremities using protective and high visibility fabrics.
  • Signs and Labels: Remind workers to wear PPE. Use labels to mark shutoffs and equipment. Highlight fire equipment and emergency stations. Post reminders to not overload outlets.

Another tip to keep in mind is to have any facility HVAC system maintained by a professional. It also is important to use HVAC system filters during this time of the coronavirus (COVID-19), to limit the chance of spread, according to OSHA.

Whether a workplace has winter safety as part of its hazard management program or needs to add it, it’s important to help workers understand how to navigate during seasonal changes. To help aid in awareness and accident prevention, clearly communicate safe working expectations. Share reminders to reinforce those messages using signs, labels, and floor markings that can withstand the elements indoors and outside.

Copyright © 2020. Graphic Products, Inc.

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