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Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean outdoor operations stop. In fact, many operations are busier during the year’s coldest months than they are in the spring and summer.
There are still orders to fill, supplies to be stored, inventory to be counted, and all the other responsibilities that are necessary for a successful business — including occasionally climbing up on a ladder.
Yet using a ladder in winter weather is much more hazardous than climbing one in warm, sunny weather. Rungs can be covered in ice and snow. Freezing temperatures mean workers are likely to be bundled in more clothing. And fast-moving winter winds can easily push a ladder over or cause a climber to tumble.
During the winter, ladder use should be limited to only those tasks that are absolutely essential. If there are other alternatives — such as using a cherry picker, scissor lift, or forklift equipped with a work platform attachment — these may be both safer and more efficient.
If you do require workers to climb up on a ladder outdoors in wintry weather, you may be held responsible if something goes wrong. According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers are required to protect workers from falls at any height higher than 4 feet for normal work, and higher than 6 feet for construction work.
Removing Snow Safely
One of the most common outdoor tasks requiring ladders in the winter is removing snow from products, supplies, shelving, roofs, and other areas. Snow can cause damage to property, especially if it is wet and heavy. Getting snow off materials provides more access. But it also lets customers and clients see products, supplies, and materials, which can help boost sales.
Before ordering any worker to climb up a ladder during winter, it’s important that they know what they are doing and are aware of the dangers. If necessary, you should supply the proper fall protection equipment. Depending on the height, this may include safety harnesses, guard rails, slip-resistant boots and ladder steps, or other gear.
Getting Up and Down Safely
Workers should be assigned to teams of at least two people so that one person is never climbing a ladder alone and unsupervised. If a fall should occur and the worker is caught by his or her fall protection system, the other worker can alert others for help and assist in getting their partner down safely.
Using ladders in the winter poses multiple hazards. Following best safety practices can help reduce accidents and injuries, as well as employer liability.