Winter Work Safety

Originally published 01/31/2018

When performing construction and other work during the winter season, be mindful of the weather, its effects on the body and proper actions to prevent serious injury, permanent tissue damage or even death. Employers should monitor the weather to keep track of forecasts.

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

  • Require proper gear. Workers need to have the right clothing for severe weather, including boots, heavy coats, gloves and hats. Employers should require all workers to wear clothing that will keep them warm and dry to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Also, shoes should have nonslip soles to prevent falling. Consider keeping extra clothing on hand should your clothing get wet.
  • 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. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets to reduce the risk of falling or losing your balance in case you slip while walking on ice or snow.
  • Keep your safety eyewear from fogging up in the cold. Use anti-fog coatings and wipes that are appropriate for your eyewear.
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and some medications that inhibit the body’s response to the cold and can impair judgement. These items can increase your heart rate and may cause your blood vessels to constrict. Encourage workers to drink water.
  • Warm up your vehicle to help reduce the moisture condensation on the inside of your car windows. Remember, though, not to warm up your vehicle in a closed area.
  • After a winter storm, immediately report any downed power lines or broken gas lines in your area or workplace.
  • Prepare and identify a warm break area for workers to retreat. It can be a heated trailer or a tent with portable heaters. Always follow proper safety procedures with heating devices.
  • Before work begins, review the area to ensure no new hazards have formed while you were away. Common hazards are snow and ice accumulations or downed power lines and trees.
  • Before work is started on a site, ensure that snow is removed, salt or sand is put down and large patches of ice are chipped away to greatly reduce the risk of injury.
  • All work vehicles should be inspected to determine if they are fully functioning. Winter kits should be added to every vehicle including an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, tow chain, flashlight with extra batteries, emergency flares, a blanket, snacks, and water.

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. Safety is being prepared.

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Temporary Heating

Originally published 01/03/2018

Before selecting and turning on a heater, make sure the location is appropriate for heater use. Always keep a charged, inspected, ready-for-use fire extinguisher on hand.

There are two basic styles of heaters: forced air and convection. Forced air heaters have a powerful fan that draws air in and then though the heater. These heaters must be used in areas with plenty of fresh air and should be placed carefully in an area free of dirt and clutter because they get very hot.

Convection heaters use natural air movement to heat air as it moves through the heater. No fan is used. These units get very hot, too. They can be used indoors, but there must be a constant supply of fresh air and at least a 36” clearance all around from any combustible material.

Heaters can be fueled by electricity, propane, natural gas or liquids such as Number 1 fuel oil or kerosene.

Electric: Electric heaters are not as common on construction sites as fuel- or gas-fired heaters. An electric heater should be used where heated air must be free of combustion byproducts (like fumes, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide). An electric heater is useful in a closed space where the supply of fresh air is limited (like a jobsite office trailer).

Liquid Fuel: Liquid fuel heaters typically burn oil and kerosene and are a good source of heat, but they do, however, require ample fresh air ventilation and a constant supply of fuel to refill the heaters.

Some liquid-fueled heaters release exhaust fumes with an oily smell, which can be irritating for workers. It is possible to vent the heater to the outdoors and produce a large volume of heated air free of combustion byproducts. These heaters are sometimes used to heat the air over a new concrete placement in winter.

Propane (LPG)/Natural Gas (LNG): Propane- or natural-gas heaters are lightweight and easy to transport. Both gases are highly flammable and explosive. Use the necessary precautions when handling, storing and using these gases.

Propane is heavier than air. Leaking gas will settle in low-lying areas such as basements and trenches. This can lead to asphyxiation and explosion. Keep propane containers and tanks secured and upright at all times. Natural gas is lighter than air and, if leaking, will rise to the ceiling of an enclosed space. If you smell gas, turn off the heater and do not use it (or any other heater) until you find and repair the source of the leak.

The next time you need to use a portable heater, don’t just grab the first one you see. Think about where it will be used and select the correct heater for the job.

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