Risk Insights: Transportation & warehousing

Inclement weather can pose serious dangers both to truck drivers and warehouse employees. It is important that they are prepared to handle the cold, rain and snow. In addition, it is your responsibility as an employer to establish and communicate policies in the event of inclement weather.

Adverse Driving Conditions

Your biggest concern should be the safety of your employees. Weather can threaten drivers’ safety on the road and put them in danger. It is important that they are trained and prepared to deal with all potential weather they may encounter.

Drivers should always be aware of upcoming conditions for the day. Offer them resources to check weather and road conditions regularly before beginning their shift. Before bad weather hits, all vehicles should be given a thorough safety inspection that is compliant with Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) standards and should be equipped with emergency materials such as a snow scraper, blanket, first aid kit and flashlight. Drivers should also ensure that they are dressed for the cold and have proper protection in case they are stranded.

Training Your Drivers

To protect your company against liability, employees should be trained in safe, cautious driving techniques in all types of weather and know what to do in case of an accident. Many companies fail to provide such training, leaving drivers ill-equipped and at risk.

Sometimes, the weather may be too severe to safely drive. It is essential that you emphasize to your drivers the importance of pulling off to the side of the road when visibility or traction is threatened. Your policies will dictate their behavior—make sure you are flexible enough to adjust driving schedules around hazardous weather conditions. Stressing the importance of stopping when driving conditions are dangerous is difficult with employees who receive compensation by the mile, so focus on the impact on their health and safety. A debilitating accident could result in more lost wages than a few miles.

Cold, rainy or snowy weather can pose serious dangers to your employees – make sure they are properly trained and prepared to handle all weather conditions.

Risks for Warehouse Workers

Warehouse employees and drivers performing loading and unloading tasks are also at risk during inclement weather. It is important that they dress for the weather and are prepared to handle these conditions—even if they only are exposed for short periods throughout the day. Extreme cold, precipitation and wind can be extremely dangerous and damaging to employees even in small doses.

Cold Weather Safety

When exposed to cold, wet or windy conditions, workers should take the following precautions:

  • Take breaks to get warm if exposed for extended periods.
  • Drink plenty of liquids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid smoking, which constricts blood flow to skin.
  • Be aware of any cold weather related side-effects of any medication they may be taking. Know and understand symptoms of cold-related illnesses and injuries.
  • Stretch before physical work to prevent muscle pulls and injuries.

Protective Clothing

Personal protective equipment and protective clothing is especially important for drivers and on the loading dock during inclement weather because of the slip and fall hazards present. Good housekeeping practices, such as using slip-resistant surfaces on docks and inside where shoes will leave puddles of water, will eliminate some of these risks. However, it is impossible to remove all perils on the loading dock and on the truck bed, so while securing loads, loading and unloading, employees should be required to wear approved slip-resistant footwear. In addition, employees should wear the following clothing to protect from cold, wind, rain or snow:

  • At least three layers of clothing, including a loose fitting outer layer, allows ventilation and prevents overheating
  • Hat or hood
  • Insulated boots
  • Gloves – not only can the cold cause injuries to exposed skin, but cold hands also make one more prone to injury when lifting objects or operating machinery

(Note: In general, OSHA requires employers to pay only for protective gear that is out of the ordinary; employees are usually responsible for everyday clothing, defined as articles that are worn outside the workplace, like those listed above.)

Proper Training

Winter weather can cause unusual conditions and higher risks, so it is important to train all your employees on safety procedures. They should understand the danger of exposed skin, insufficient protective wear and cold, wet or slippery equipment. Employees also should be trained to recognize cold-weather illnesses and injuries in themselves and co-workers and should be aware of how to treat such incidents.

Handling Pay-related Issues

Pay issues arise when weather forces your business to close for any length of time or prevents employees from making it to work even if your business remains open.

For non-exempt (typically hourly) employees, you are only required to pay them for the hours they actually work. Thus, if your business opens late, closes early, closes for an entire day or if employees cannot come in, you are not required to pay them for any time missed.

If an exempt (typically salaried) employee works any part of the day, you must pay them for a full day. Similarly, if the business is closed for a day or more but less than a full week, you need to pay exempt employees their normal salary if they worked any part of that week. You do not need to pay employees if business is closed for a full week. This applies whether your company uses a fiveday or seven-day workweek. You may, however, require that they use available paid time off or vacation time, if available. If your business remains open but an exempt employee cannot come in due to weather, this is a personal reason and you do not need to pay them.

Be sure that you have a communication plan in place to speak with your employees about weather conditions, including if your facility is closing for the day or if they cannot make it to work. With your drivers, make it your policy to stay in close communication and advise them when considering driving in hazardous weather conditions.

Be Prepared

Employees should be informed of your company policies related to inclement weather—safety, attendance and pay-related. When bad weather is coming, address all your policies again, remind employees of communication channels to address attendance and plan for the worst potential outcome to ensure your company is prepared for the weather and that your employees stay safe.