Cold Weather Hazards

First published on 01/13/2016

Several potential hazards exist when winter temperatures fall below zero. This Toolbox Talk addresses three of them.

Frostbite is damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. It can cause loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It can affect any part of the body; however, the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are most likely to be affected. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased when individuals do not dress appropriately for the weather conditions.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness; tingling or stinging; aching; and bluish, pail or waxy skin. If you think you are suffering from frostbite, get into a warm location as soon as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet. This increases the damage. Warm the affected area using body heat. For example, place a frostbitten hand under your arm. Do not rub or massage the affected area, because doing so can cause more damage to the skin. Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit if the feet are constantly wet. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms of trench foot include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain and bleeding under the skin. If you are suffering from trench foot, you should remove shoes/boots and wet socks, dry your feet and avoid walking, as this may cause tissue damage.

Chilblains are caused when the skin is repeatedly exposed to temperatures ranging from just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent, and the redness and itching (typically on cheeks, ears, fingers and toes) will return with additional exposure.

Symptoms of chilblains include redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation and possible ulceration in severe cases. If you have chilblains you should avoid scratching, slowly warm the skin, use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling and keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered.

Download the recording form here.

Be Prepared for Cold Weather

It’s getting colder, and winter is just around the corner. Now is the time to think about the extra safety precautions you need to take during the winter months, whether driving or working on the jobsite.

Check out these tips for driving in winter weather:

  • Give yourself extra time to drive to work.
  • Use extra caution on bridges and overpasses. Remember that they will freeze first.
  • Drive defensively. Watch out for drivers who may be driving too fast for road conditions, or who may have lost control of their vehicle.
  • Measure the low-temperature protection provided by the antifreeze in your vehicle to avoid frozen radiator and hoses.
  • Keep an ice scraper, shovel, jumper cables, a blanket and some sand, kitty litter or traction mats in your vehicle.
  • Check the tread on your tires. If it’s less than one-eighth of an inch, consider replacing the tires.
  • Check the air tanks on your truck, and make sure liquid isn’t building up. During winter months, air brake lines could freeze because the air tanks weren’t drained. Driving a truck under these conditions is very dangerous.

Dress for working in cold weather:

  • Wear layers of clothing. Many layers of thin garments trap heat better than a few thick ones. You can always remove a layer if you get warmer.
  • Wear a liner in your hard hat.
  • Wear headbands or hooded jackets to protect your ears.
  • Keep clothes clean and dry.
  • Wear water-resistant boots.
  • Wear windproof outer layers.
  • Wear cotton close to the body.
  • Wear gloves with liners, if possible.
  • Wear an extra pair of socks for added warmth.
  • Make sure your safety vest is clean and in good repair. As the days get shorter, early low-light conditions make it very difficult for passing drivers, equipment operators and other co-workers to see you.

When possible, consider taking additional precautions against cold weather:

  • Take breaks in warm areas.
  • Use approved warming devices. Be cautious of carbon monoxide buildup when you are indoors.
  • Use the buddy system, and check on each other regularly.
  • Be cautious of ice buildup on the jobsite. Slip and fall injuries can occur suddenly.
  • Schedule work to avoid being exposed to high-wind conditions.
  • Work with your back to the wind.

The best time to prepare for the cold is before you are exposed. Think ahead, and be prepared for changing conditions. Following these steps can lessen your chances of an accident or injury.

Download the recording form here.

Winter Work Safety

Each season brings its own set of hazards for construction workers. As we enter the winter season, be especially mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death.

Low temperatures, high winds, dampness and cold water can contribute to cold-related stress on your body. Wearing inadequate or wet clothing increases the effects of cold on the body. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement.

Fatigue, nausea, confusion, lightheadedness and profuse sweating are symptoms of hypothermia. Exposed skin can start to freeze at just 28F causing frostbite. Deep frostbite can cause blood clots and even gangrene.

Following are several tips to consider while working outdoors during the winter months:

  • Keep your body temperature at or about normal (98.6F). This can be accomplished by wearing layers of clothing.
  • Wear cotton or lightweight wool fabrics next to your skin. Add layers when you are cold, remove layers when hot.
  • Keep your clothing as dry as possible. Protect your clothing as needed by wearing rain gear and other durable garments. Keep an extra pair of socks handy so you can change them as needed. You may also want to consider investing in waterproof footwear.
  • Protect your head, neck and ears. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.
  • Wear the right gloves for the work you are doing. They should have enough insulation to keep you warm and prevent frostbite, but thin enough so you can feel what you are doing if you are manipulating controls or tools.
  • Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.

If your skin becomes discolored and it appears that circulation has been limited, then you are probably experiencing the early stages of frostbite. If this occurs, find a way to immediately start warming that particular part of the body. Tips for treating frostbite include:

  • When possible, go indoors or to a warmer area to prevent further exposure.
  • Never rub or massage the affected body part.
  • Never use hot water. You should gradually warm the frostbitten area by immersing it in lukewarm water.
  • If blisters develop, cover them with a bandage or gauze to prevent them from opening and becoming infected.
  • Refrain from smoking as it slows down the circulation of blood to the extremities.
  • Avoid caffeine. It constricts blood vessels.
  • When normal feeling, movement and skin color have returned, the area affected should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm.
  • If the condition does not improve, seek professional medical attention.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. Prepare in advance, observe safety precautions and reduce your risk of weather-related injury.

Download the recording form here.

Preventing Forklift Accidents

There are several types of forklifts that can be used on construction sites. They include stand-up riders for use in narrow aisles, sit-down riders, motorized hand pallet jacks and rough terrain forklift trucks.

About 100 workers are killed each year as a result of forklift accidents. Overturning causes nearly one quarter of these fatalities. Other common forklift accidents include workers being struck by materials on forklifts or by the forklift itself, and workers falling from a forklift.

Unfortunately, those who operate forklifts day in and day out have a tendency to take short cuts and ignore basic safety rules. Their attitude says, “It can’t happen to me.”

Some factors to consider when driving a forklift include:

  • Know the capacity of the forklift you are driving. Make sure it can handle the size and weight of your load.
  • Determine if the load you are carrying has any odd characteristics, and plan ahead on how to handle them. Examples include loads that are top heavy, cylindrical or awkward.
  • Know the condition of the forklift. Are the forks damaged, or is there some other problem that could cause an accident? If so, don’t use the forklift until it’s repaired.
  • Determine the path you will be traveling with the forklift. Be aware of obstacles, bumps, ramps, people, cross aisles and narrow passageways.

When operating a forklift, keep the following safety guidelines in mind:

  • Operate the forklift only if you’ve been trained.
  • Maintain a safe following distance from other forklifts – about three vehicle lengths.
  • Follow speed limits and other regulations.
  • Drive with your load low – six or eight inches off the ground – and tilted slightly back.
  • Exercise extra caution when driving over duckboards and bridge plates, and make sure your load is within their capacity as well.
  • Raise and lower your load only when your forklift is completely stopped.
  • Stop and sound the horn at intersections.
  • Avoid sharp turns.
  • Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle.
  • Wear a hard hat and other protective equipment when necessary.
  • Be sure your load is stable and secure.
  • When leaving the forklift for any reason or any length of time, lower the forks, neutralize the controls, shut off the engine and set the brakes.

OSHA has two educational documents on forklift safety. The first is “Operating the Forklift: Load Handling,” and the second is “Operating the Forklift: Traveling & Maneuvering.” Both have good information that can help you safely operate your forklift.

Download the recording form here.

Danger – Eye Protection Required

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20,000 workplace eye injuries happen each year. These injuries range from simple eye strain to severe trauma that can cause permanent damage, partial vision loss or blindness. Many of these injuries could have been prevented if the worker had used proper protective eyewear and followed appropriate safety measures.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has identified five major dangers to your eyes. They include:

  • Impact – flying objects and particles;
  • Heat – anything that gives off dangerous heat;
  • Chemicals – flashes, fumes and vapors;
  • Dust – otherwise harmless particulates that can damage sensitive eyes; and
  • Optical radiation – everything from simple glare to intense light.

There are three things you can do to help prevent eye injury:

  1. Know the eye hazards at your worksite.
  2. When possible, eliminate the hazards before starting work. Use machine guarding, work screens or other engineering controls.
  3. Use the proper eye protection. Anyone working in or passing through areas that pose eye hazards should wear protective eyewear.

Ensure your safety glasses fit properly. According to OSHA Standard 1926.102, your safety glasses should meet the following requirements:

  • Provide adequate protection against the particular hazards for which they are designed.
  • Be reasonably comfortable when worn under the designated conditions.
  • Fit snugly and not unduly interfere with your movements.
  • Be durable and capable of being disinfected.
  • Be easily cleaned.

Clean your safety glasses daily, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Store them in a case when they are not being worn. Replace glasses that are scratched, pitted, broken, bent or ill-fitting.

Use only safety glasses that are manufactured to meet the American National Standards Institute’s Z87.1 Eye and Face Protection Standard.

Download the recording form here.