Cold Weather Safety Tips For The Workplace
With winter officially arriving on December 21st and the cold weather already setting in, now is the time to start thinking about how the cold weather will affect safety within the workplace. There may be situations where workers will be required to work either briefly, or regularly for sustained periods of time in the cold weather and will be faced with cold weather hazards that would not normally be present at other times of the year. For these situations, and just cold weather in general, we have compiled this article featuring cold weather safety tips for the workplace to help workers, managers, and supervisors continue to work efficiently and effectively while maintaining work safe practices in the cold weather.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
The first thing that all workers should be aware of is that the two biggest health hazards that result from overexposure to cold temperatures are hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia results when workers are exposed to the cold without protection for long periods of time. This will cause body temperatures to drop to dangerously low levels until hypothermia sets in. Realize that hypothermia doesn’t always occur in freezing or sub-zero temperatures. Oftentimes, hypothermia results from workers who are working in windy conditions, the worker is exhausted, or they are wearing wet clothes. If hypothermia is recognized while working, it should be treated IMMEDIATELY! Untreated hypothermia can lead to loss of consciousness or even death.
Frostbite occurs when the body tissues actually freeze. Usually you will find that frostbite will affect fingers, toes, the nose, cheeks, and ears. Frostbite, like hypothermia, should be treated IMMEDIATELY once it is recognized. Unfortunately, frostbite can result in permanent tissue damage or the possible loss of movement in affected areas. If it is bad enough, amputation could become a possibility.
Cold Fingers and Mood
Of course, severe health issues don’t always result from cold temperatures. Sometimes, just the fact that your hands and fingers are cold and have less grip and dexterity could lead to disastrous consequences. When you can’t feel your hands or fingers, it becomes much harder to grip and handle tools, materials, or other equipment. This can lead to accidents happening that could injure or kill someone, simply because someone lost their grip on their tools or they couldn’t handle them correctly.
Cold weather also has a tendency to affect the moods of workers. It is natural to feel the winter blues once the cold weather sets in, especially if it’s been cold for a considerable amount of time. When workers become irritated or grumpy while working, this can also lead to accidents due to workers rushing to get jobs done so they can get inside and warm up again. They can also tend to forget about, or become less aware, of the hazards around them.
One thing a lot of workers fail to take into account when dealing with cold weather is the windchill factor. This is a problem considering that 80% of a worker’s body heat that is lost on cold days is lost to the windchill. The trick is to understand how the windchill is affecting what it really feels like outside, not just what the temperature indicates. For example, it could be 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside with no windchill and workers should be able to work fine without it affecting them too much. However, the same temperature, 34 degrees, will feel MUCH different when there is 25 mile per hour winds blowing. 34 degrees with 25 mile per hour winds feels bitterly cold. The wind ends up blowing away the thin layer of air between the skin and the air that usually protects workers, creating a much colder environment that should be protected against accordingly.
So, to protect against the elements, you will want to have a good idea of your options. Generally speaking, cold weather work clothes should:
- Provide high insulation.
- Allow moisture to escape from inside of the clothing.
- Resist moisture from getting in from the outside.
- Resist snow.
- Have a means of alternating insulation and flow of air.
- Be unrestrictive to movement.
- Have minimal bulk and weight.
- Be easy to put on and take off.
- Be durable.
The following clothing is recommended for any workers who will be working briefly, or for extended periods of time in the cold this winter.
- Underwear-Thermal underwear should be worn with cotton shirt and shorts underneath. It is better to have 2-piece long underwear than a single piece. You want to stay warm, but you don’t want to constrict the blood vessels either.
- Pants-Lined thermal type pants, or wool and quilted pants are recommended. Pants should provide room to the wearer and should be worn with suspenders, not a belt. Belts constrict circulation.
- Shirts-Wool shirts are best for cold weather. They should be worn over underwear tops and suspenders with the shirttail worn outside of the pants to help ventilation. If you are allergic to wool, you can wear a cotton or synthetic shirt.
- Socks-Socks should assist in the evaporation of sweat without restricting circulation. The best socks for this are high wool socks. Avoid stretch socks if you can since they limit circulation.
- Boots-Any and all footwear should be waterproof and reach high up the leg. The most strongly recommended boots are rubber bottomed, felt lined, and leather toppers with removable insoles.
- Face Masks-Face masks should only be worn by workers who simply cannot afford to suffer limited vision while working. If this is the case, the face masks need to be removed on a constant basis to check for frostbite.
- Head Covers-Hat liners or wool knit caps that extend down the back of the neck are the best choice. However, a ski mask, or balaclava, will offer even more protection against the cold.
- Mittens and Gloves-For full protection from the cold, mittens are recommended. However, you will want to carry both mittens and gloves so you can put the gloves on when you need more dexterity when moving your fingers.
Cold weather is a normal occurrence, so it is easy for workers to forget the dangers and consequences associated with it. Make sure to take into account these cold weather safety tips while working in the workplace to better protect yourself against the elements while still maintaining effectiveness and productivity.