OHS Canada Magazine

How to protect workers from inclement winter weather

Employers have responsibility to ensure safety during storms


During winter, employers need to monitor the weather and keep their workplace cleared of hazards that could lead to injuries. (Artem/Adobe Stock)

In Canada, work related injuries spike during the winter.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, there were over 9,000 hospitalizations due to falls on ice from from 2016 to 2017.

Winter weather also poses hazards such as cold stress to outdoor workers and dangerous driving conditions for commuters.

Businesses need to be aware of their responsibilities to staff and ensure they are safe during ice storms, snowstorms and extreme temperatures, according to Hope McManus, head of health and safety at OH&S consultancy firm Peninsula Canada in Toronto.

Businesses should review and update company policies and to communicate these clearly to staff, she said.

Keeping the workplace safe

Provincial occupational health and safety legislation holds employers responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.

During winter, this means employers need to monitor the weather and keep their workplace cleared of hazards that could lead to injuries, said McManus.

Employers should be diligent in doing the following:

  • keeping outdoor walkways, stairs and parking lots clear of snow and ice
  • clearing snow and ice off surfaces under which people might walk
  • restricting access to dangerous areas
  • using safety signs, cones and tape to warn of hazards
  • educating staff on everyone’s role in keeping the workplace safe.

Indoors, meltwater from boots makes floors slippery and this could lead to slips and falls, she said.

Entranceways should be maintained, cleared of water and caution signs should be used when there is a hazard.

Protecting outdoor workers

Employers who have staff working outside must be mindful of their working conditions and how the weather will affect them.

“Hypothermia and frostbite are common concerns for those who work outdoors during winter, and employers should ensure their employees are aware of and safe from the hazards of cold stress,” said McManus.

“Workers should be provided with adequate clothing and equipment that will keep them warm during work. If it is too cold to work safely or the weather creates dangerous conditions, employers should put the safety of their workers first and send them home.”

Inclement weather policy

It is the employer’s responsibility to notify staff of business closures due to bad weather, said McManus.

While having an inclement weather policy is not a legal requirement, this is an especially useful policy to have in Canada.

This policy will help make work closures go more smoothly and ensure that workers are clear on procedures, she said, as bad weather can affect outdoor workers but also the commute of indoor workers.

“If bad weather prevents employees from getting to work or makes it dangerous for them to travel, employers should consider temporarily closing business or allowing employees to work from home,” said McManus. “If working from home is not possible, employees can be given the opportunity to make up missed hours at another time.”

“The policy should also state what circumstances could lead to a business closure, how workers will be notified of a business closure, who will make the closure decision, how employees are expected to notify management if they cannot make it to work and whether they will be paid during the closure.”

Paying employees during closures

Generally, employers are not required to pay employees during business closures if they have given them notice in advance, said McManus.

However, if the employer decides to close business after employees have arrived to work, employees may need to be paid reporting pay.

Reporting pay is the minimum amount of pay employees must receive if they have arrived to work and are available to work but are sent home early.

The rules for reporting pay vary province to province, so employers should make sure they know what is required of their business.

Employers may also choose to pay their staff during business closures.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.