WORKING IN COLD WEATHER

Working in the cold winter weather can be like working in the extreme heat:

  • You must be prepared for it.
  • You must be equipped for it.
  • You must get acclimated to it.

Employees who work in the cold weather during the winter months can be at risk of cold stress and injuries. It’s important to recognize cold weather hazards and potential for injury.

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING WHEN WORKING OUTSIDE DURING THE WINTER MONTHS:

  • Workers taking certain medications, who are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease may be at increased risk during cold weather exposure.
  • Dress in layers that can be added and removed as you get warmer or colder. Sweating from too many layers can cause clothing to become wet. Overdressing can also restrict your movement and increase the potential of an accident.
  • Wear synthetic or cotton clothing next to the skin to wick away sweat.
  • Hands and head should always be covered to minimize heat loss.
  • Take frequent breaks in a warm, dry area to limit the effects of exposure to cold temperatures.

MEDICAL CONDITIONS RESULTING FROM PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO COLD TEMPERATURES:

  • Trench foot is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. 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.
  • Hypothermia is a severe condition when the body is unable to produce enough heat to counter the heat that it is losing. If your body loses heat more quickly than it can make it, your core temperature will fall. As it falls, the body shifts blood away from the skin to reduce the amount of heat that escapes.
  • Frostbite is characterized by reddened skin with gray and white patches, skin and limb numbness, firm skin and limbs and, in severe cases, blisters.

If employees show signs of cold-related stress or injuries, it’s important to get them warm and dry immediately.

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Members can download the audio version of this toolbox talk 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.

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