Northwestern Environmental Health and Safety

Spotlight on Safety

VOLUME 7, ISSUE 12 | December 2023

Preparing for Winter

As we approach another winter season at Northwestern, you should be aware of the many hazards associated with winter weather conditions. Low temperatures can cause injuries, and snow and ice can cause hazardous walking, working, and driving conditions, which may result in accidents. Taking special precautions in the winter months will ensure your safety and the safety of your colleagues.

Cold-related injuries

Cold working environments (e.g., outdoors, poorly insulated areas) can reduce skin and body temperatures, which can lead to injuries such as:

  • Frostbite: Redness and pain in the skin, followed by white or grayish-yellow skin, unusually firm or waxy skin, and numbness
  • Hypothermia: Shivering and exhaustion, confusion and fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness
  • Trench foot: Caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions and can result in reddening skin, tingling/numbness, pain, swelling, cramps, and blisters

Wind chill

The wind chill is the temperature your body feels based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. It is important to understand the effect wind has when paired with cold temperatures, as it can be life-threatening. For example, when the air temperature is 0°F, and the wind speed is 15mph, the wind chill temperature falls to -19°F. At this temperature, exposed skin can freeze in 30 minutes! Refer to the National Weather Service (NWS) Wind Chill Chart to learn more.

Get trained

If your job requires working in cold environments, ensure you are up-to-date on your annual Cold Stress in the Workplace training in myHR Learn.

Cold Stress in the Workplace Training >

Protect yourself from the cold

  • Check the local forecast regularly so you know when to expect cold, snowy, and icy conditions.
  • Adjust your schedule to avoid being outside during the coldest part of the day.
  • Wear several layers of clothing and cover exposed skin, even if you don’t think you’ll be outdoors much.
  • Take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas to allow your body to warm up.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water and warm beverages.

Safe winter driving

Road hazards increase during the winter due to the potential for ice and snow on the roads. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 24% of weather-related vehicle crashes occur in the winter, and 15% happen during snowfall or sleet. Below are some safe driving tips to keep in mind during inclement weather conditions:

  • Plan your route before you drive, avoid taking unnecessary trips, and find the safest route (e.g., main, well-lit roads and intersections).
  • Drive at a slow and safe speed and increase your following distance between other vehicles.
  • Ensure your visibility is not blocked by clearing ice and snow off your windows before driving.

Winter slips and falls

Ice and snow create more risks for slips, trips, and falls, which are the main sources of workplace injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 people suffer snow- or ice-related injuries every year. To prevent slips and falls on slippery surfaces:

  • Wear proper waterproof footwear with good traction and insulation, and walk carefully by taking short steps and walking at a slow pace.
  • Try to stay on sidewalks and clear paths; avoid taking shortcuts (e.g., walking through snow piles).
  • Prior to entering buildings, remove snow from your footwear to avoid creating slippery conditions for others.

Winter well-being

The seasons can affect you emotionally, and your overall well-being is just as important as your physical safety. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that usually occurs in climates and periods with less sunlight, such as the winter. Symptoms include persistent low moods, decreased energy levels, and irritability.

Take advantage of Northwestern’s Human Resources Well-Being Program, which provides resources to benefit the physical and emotional well-being of staff, faculty, and their families.

Do you want to learn more?

Report all incidents here >