As cold weather arrives, what to do and not do to keep safe involve a number of potential factors and scenarios. Job sites, homes, businesses, vehicles and more all may have a cold weather-related challenge to confront.
Preparation can address many issues. For instance, winter weather driving and vehicle safety checks along with vehicle emergency kits can be essential and life-saving. Preventing hypothermia and frostbite on a work site may take planning ahead during weather extremes.
Other areas of safety may involve use of powered equipment. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), snow blowers commonly cause lacerations or amputations when operators attempt to clear jams with the equipment turned on. The agency says to never attempt to clear a jam by hand.
“First, turn the snow blower off and wait for all moving parts to stop, and then use a long stick to clear the wet snow or debris from the machine,” the agency says. “Keep your hands and feet away from moving parts. Refuel a snow blower prior to starting the machine; do not add fuel when the equipment is running or when the engine is hot.”
Another safety concern involves generators. Potential hazards include shocks and electrocution, carbon monoxide from a generator’s exhaust and fires from improperly refueling the generator or inappropriately storing fuel.
OSHA recommends some safe work practices, including:
- Inspect portable generators for damage or loose fuel lines that may have occurred during transportation and/or handling.
- Keep the generator dry.
- Maintain and operate portable generators according to the manufacturer’s use and safety instructions.
- Never attach a generator directly to the electrical system of a structure (home, office or trailer) unless the generator has a properly installed transfer switch because this creates a risk of electrocution for utility workers.
- Before refueling, shut down the generator. Never store fuel indoors.
Other types of challenges bring generator use into focus during cold weather. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. Many workers have died from CO poisoning because a generator was not adequately ventilated, according to OSHA.
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the agency recommends:
- Never use a generator indoors.
- Never place a generator outdoors near doors, windows or vents.
- If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning — dizziness, headaches, nausea, tiredness — get to fresh air immediately and seek medical attention.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, carbon monoxide is in fumes and smoke from car and truck engines, small gasoline engines, fuel-burning space heaters, gas stoves, lanterns, heating systems including home furnaces, and burning charcoal, kerosene, propane or wood.
According to the clinic, each year in the U.S., CO poisoning kills more than 400 people, sends an additional 20,000 people to emergency rooms and hospitalizes more than 4,000 people. Occupations with high CO levels include:
- Forklift operators
- Garage mechanics
- Police officers
- Taxi drivers
- Tollbooth attendants
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include mild headache, nausea and shortness of breath. Moderate CO exposure can cause symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness and weakness, fainting, loss of muscle coordination, mental confusion, severe headache and an upset stomach with nausea and vomiting.
The Portable Generator Manufacturers’ Association (PGMA) seeks to develop and influence safety and performance standards. It recommends reading and following a generator operator’s manual before operating and installing CO detectors/alarms inside your home.
Generator manufacturers also have been trying to make products safer. Honda Power Equipment, Alpharetta, Ga., features Honda generators for commercial and consumer applications that produce between 1,000 and 10,000W of power for recreation, construction, rental, computers, appliances and emergency use. Honda generators are powered by Honda four-stroke engines.
Some of those generators include the Honda CO-MINDER™, an advanced carbon monoxide detection system designed to help protect users from injury or death from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Mi-T-M Corp., Peosta, Iowa, has added a CO sensor to its generators. The built-in sensor triggers an automatic shutoff when gas builds up to dangerous levels.
The GP Series 6500 COsense® portable generator from Generac Mobile Products, Berlin, Wis., offers protection against carbon monoxide. The generator is engineered to detect building amounts of CO faster than a household carbon monoxide monitor, the company says.
The National Weather Service advises to regularly check smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. According to the weather service, the danger of CO poisoning is greater during winter storms when doors and windows stay closed and fireplaces and gas heaters are in use.
Tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning:
- Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
- Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
- Never use a generator, pressure washer or any gasoline-powered engine inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 ft. from any window, door or vent. Use an extension cord that is more than 20 ft. long to keep the generator at a safe distance.
- When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.
- Never run a generator, pressure washer or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
- If CO poisoning is suspected, call 911 or your local Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or consult a health care professional right away.