Driving in winter weather - snow, ice, wet, and cold - creates a great challenge for both vehicles and their drivers. Nearly 30% of car accidents in Canada happen on snowy or icy roads. According to Traffic Accident Information System (TAIS) reports, 5% of accidents occur during a snowfall. It is a chilling fact - more than 50,000 accidents a year will be caused by winter precipitation. Nearly 40% of all work-related crashes that result in injury and time loss occur between November and February.
Winter driving can be challenging for workers, both in terms of their physical well-being and their work-related responsibilities. Here are some examples of how winter driving can affect workers:
- Greater Risk of Accidents: As stated, the risk of accidents significantly increases during winter driving. Slippery roads, reduced traction, and decreased visibility can lead to a higher risk of collisions.
- Increased Stress and Anxiety: Slippery roads, reduced visibility, and the potential for accidents require greater attention and pressure on drivers. Over time, this may impact a worker’s mental health. Once at work, fatigue may lead to decreased productivity at work.
- Potential for Delays, Disruption of Work-Life Balance: Snow, ice, and poor road conditions can slow down traffic and make travel more time-consuming. This may also mean a worker has to leave home earlier to get to work on time, or make it home later than expected, which adds to work-life balance challenges.
Winter Driving Incident Prevention
Employers are responsible for keeping workers safe – this includes any time they are driving a vehicle as part of their work tasks.
Vehicles that are maintained regularly decrease the risk of any mishap or disaster while driving - particularly in winter weather. Ensure any work or fleet vehicles are in proper working order, and do a pre-winter check up. This may include switching to winter wiper blades, putting winter tires on, and checking that vehicle batteries are not expired.
Do your work vehicles include an emergency safety kit? Click here for a checklist of what your vehicle emergency kit should include.
Winter driving risks must be treated as any other workplace safety hazard. By completing a winter driving hazard assessment, you will be able to identify, assess, and eliminate or control winter driving-related hazards that workers are likely to face. Find resources on how to complete a hazard assessment (and more) here.
Develop Winter Driving Policy and Procedures
Once you understand the hazards and risks associated with the type of driving tasks at your workplace, put some safety guidelines in place to deal with them. Regularly review winter driving guidelines with workers at the beginning of each winter season and if an incident happens related to winter driving.
Make sure workers understand what to do if they are involved in a vehicle accident, or if the vehicle they are using breaks down.
Training and Education
Assess workers’ winter driving skills to ensure they are ready to safely operate a vehicle in winter conditions. If they need additional driver training, ensure they get it before driving at work. Be sure to show workers how to do a circle check, and a pre-trip inspection – this includes clearing snow or ice from windows.
Workers must follow any winter driving policies or procedures that exist at the workplace. If it is safe enough to drive, make sure they start out with a vehicle inspection and circle check before heading out. Once they are behind the wheel, workers are responsible for:
Driving Speed and Distance: Reduce speed and increase the following distance. It takes longer to stop on icy roads. Avoid sudden accelerations, decelerations, and sharp turns.
Braking Techniques: Use gentle and steady pressure on the brake pedal to avoid skidding.
No Cruise Control: Do not use cruise control on icy or snowy roads. Maintain full control over your vehicle.
Response to Accidents or Breakdowns: If an accident occurs, workers should follow the emergency response procedure.
By creating and following winter driving safety procedures at your workplace, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with winter weather driving conditions. Remember, safety should always be your top priority. Communicate regularly with your workers, and be prepared to cancel work-related travel if conditions are not safe. Stay vigilant, stay prepared, and stay safe on the roads this winter.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a webpage for general information on Driving in Winter. This includes information on preparing to drive in winter conditions.
For even more winter driving preparation tips, see this website from the Government of Canada.