The term “polar vortex” was new to me a few years ago. In 2014, the North Polar Vortex shifted south, bringing record low temperatures to Canada and the US. This year, I learned about the “bomb cyclone,” also known as “bombogenesis.” Bombing happens when a low-pressure system’s central pressure falls 24 millibars in 24 hours or less: in other words, historic and sustained cold weather.
There’s now a headline on Weather.com that reads, “First Week of 2018 was the Coldest on Record for Dozens of Cities in the East.”
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The article says, “Included in this list is New York City, where the average temperature during the first seven days of the year was 16.4 degrees, smashing the previous record of 21.4 degrees set in 1981.
Farther inland, Pittsburgh also saw its coldest first week of January on record with an average temperature of just 7.9 degrees, breaking the record of 9.7 degrees set in 1879.
A few other locations in the region did not set a new record but did see a top-five coldest first week of the year. This includes Boston, which saw its second coldest first week of the year and Washington, D.C., which experienced its fourth coldest.
Several cities in the South also set new records for coldest start to the year. Raleigh and Charlotte both saw the coldest first week of the year, breaking records set in 1887.
The record-breaking cold even extended into Florida. Tallahassee experienced the coldest first seven days of the year with an average temperature of 37.1 degrees, breaking the previous record set in 2010. Jacksonville saw its second coldest, while Orlando saw its fourth coldest, with average temperatures of 38.9 degrees and 47.3 degrees, respectively.
Meanwhile, New Orleans tied the record for the coldest first week of the year, set in 1970, with an average temperature of 39.6 degrees.”
I grew up in the Midwest. I remember having to walk like a penguin on the ice so that you wouldn’t slip and fall. That was institutional knowledge passed on from Midwesterner to Midwesterner.
I don’t have any such knowledge when it comes to working in the waste industries under these extreme winter conditions. So I’ve enlisted the help of Jeff Martin who is the vice president of Safety Services for Waste Management.
Jeff tells me that a culture of safety should be a year-round endeavor.
“The keys to a strong safety culture are building critical knowledge and effective coaching. We apply these same principles to manage those risks faced by our employees during winter weather conditions.
Using a broad communication strategy to engage employees, we work to continually remind and inform teammates regarding cold weather challenges. Our strategy includes briefings, posters, videos, and task observations conducted by frontline managers. Critical job knowledge is also verified through coaching sessions that promote the valuable exchange of dialogue between managers and employees. Our winter season focus includes an emphasis on proper footwear and layered clothing. Maintaining ‘three points of contact’ entering and exiting trucks or heavy equipment is essential to preventing injuries. During the winter season there is a greater focus on the general prevention of slips, trips, and falls through strong situational awareness of ground conditions and when necessary, ‘walking like a penguin.’”
I knew walking like a penguin was a thing.
When road conditions deteriorate, Jeff says it’s sometimes necessary for collection operations to coordinate with local authorities to delay launch times of shifts. That can further ensure the safety of employees as well as the communities that are being served.
He went on to say, “Additionally, special care is given to the risk of commercial truck operation during inclement weather conditions. We promote the principles of defensive driving with our SAFETY Defensive Driver Training Program and provide driving a monthly training video series titled, “Driving Science Series” to further build knowledge and coach safe behaviors. Our professional drivers must know the abilities and limitations of the trucks they operate, and how poor surface conditions can impact stopping distance and dynamic stability during travel. Our drivers also know they must manage more than their own behavior, as inclement weather can alter traffic patterns and increase the risk of other motorists operating abnormally. Managing the risk created by other drivers requires increased focus and significant defensive skill.”
Everyone, please be safe out there!