Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter Weather Ahead, Be Prepared

That cold time of year is coming. I recently spent a few hours laying in a cord of split oak for the winter here in North Florida. People do not think of Florida as a place that has winter, and frankly we do not have that much of it. As a result though, we seem to have a hard time coping with it. November saw temperatures in the thirties. We just aren't built for that here. 

Last winter we had an ice storm. No, not what people north of the Mason-Dixon (or perhaps north of Interstate 10 even) would call an ice storm, but an ice storm nonetheless. It was nothing like the havoc that occurred in Atlanta and surrounding areas.  It was an ice storm in name only here in Florida. It melted very rapidly except on the bridges; however, we have a great many bridges. 

City officials in one town were perplexed by the iced bridges. After meetings to discuss the complex problem of ice on roads, they emerged unable to conceive of any available resources that might alleviate slipperiness, so they just closed the bridges. Police cars were stationed at the bases of each, engines running, lights flashing, overtime-paid. The only conceivable solution was not to venture onto the ice. Days passed.

Another thing we have in abundance in Florida is an abrasive that has been successfully used on ice forever up north. People who live in the north are familiar with sand and its ice-remedying properties. Not in Florida; sand never occurred to them here. With the bridges closed, the pressure mounted to find a solution other than the city's initial thought of "let's pay the police overtime to sit on the bridge approaches until it just melts." 

Alas, they never thought to apply sand. Instead, they eventually brought out a street sweeper with a rotating brush on the front and drove up and down the bridges polishing the ice, while the police on overtime sat and watched. Apparently no Zamboni was available; the only vehicle that could have been more efficient at ice-polishing. North Florida is just not equipped for the challenge of ice. Hopefully we will not face such an onslaught again. 

I was reminded of that great Florida bridge closure of 2014 when I recently read that "one-third of all Midwest workers compensation claims that resulted in time away from work last winter were caused by slips and falls on ice and snow." More precisely, one-third of last winter's lost time claims resulted from ice and snow. That was recently reported by Businessinsurance.com. It notes that the frequency was "nearly double the normal average, likely because of the extremely harsh weather conditions."  

It turns out that ice is serious business for everyone, not just those of us here in the Sunshine State. The article reports that "winter-related slips and falls claims represented an average of 29% of all workers comp claims in five Midwest states" last winter: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The article mentions nearby states that also had tough winter weather were "Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri." And these are all states where ice and snow are an annual expectation, not a surprise.

I wondered why they did not study Florida (just kidding). One carrier president did note that though the Midwest was studied, "other regions also experienced their share of icy conditions.” I would bet the folks in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh would agree with that.  

I suspect that there were a fair number of falls in Florida because ice is just not something we deal with very often; hurricanes we understand, ice not so much. Just as the city with their ice-polishing street sweeper, I suspect that individuals in the south are just as unprepared for ice. I wonder what contribution adverse weather had on slip and fall injury rates in those southern states with less experience and preparedness for winter weather, like Georgia and the Carolinas?

The point of the study and the article was to raise awareness. Some safety recommendations are made, including "walking slowly and wearing slip-resistant footwear, being prepared for black ice, and not carrying items, as keeping hands empty leaves arms are free to move for stabilization." Essentially, the cautions are to be aware, be careful, and pay attention. 

At the end of the day, that is probably good advice for a broad spectrum of risks we face at work, at home and in the world generally. That being said, it probably does not hurt to remind ourselves of it once in a while. As the recent weather on the west cost reminds us, anything can happen and sometimes with little notice. Let's be careful out there. It's going to be a long cold winter. 


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