As all of our Texas clients know, Texas has very unpredictable weather. During our winter months, it can be 62ᵒ and sunny on Monday and 33ᵒ and cloudy on Tuesday. These temperature swings can often be a challenge for employees trying to prepare for the next days work schedule. For prolonged cold spells, workers exposed to cold conditions are at risk of serious health problems, including hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration and muscle injuries. Working in cold weather puts enormous strain on your body. Air temperature is not the only measure of cold, the wind makes it colder. Windy days and cold temperatures combine to make it dangerously cold. To fight back, try these cold-weather safety tips while working on the job:
- Take frequent breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow your body to warm up.
- Be careful in high wind, and be aware of potentially slippery surfaces.
- Use the buddy system – always work in pairs.
- Sweep water out of passageways inside of buildings under construction to avoid slipping.
- Drink plenty of fluids, preferably warm, sweet beverages. Cold weather suppresses thirst, and dehydration can occur without proper fluid intake.
- Try to shield work areas from drafty or windy conditions.
- If possible, try to work during the warmest hours of the day and minimize activities that decrease circulation.
- If working in icy conditions, be prepared to use de-icers to improve walk ways to reduce slips and falls.
- Securely tie down or weigh down supplies so they are safe from gusts of wind.
A number of industries and occupations involve substantial outdoor cold exposure. These include construction workers, delivery people, utility and telecommunication workers, and others. Many other companies who work in or around indoor cold temperatures, such as the food processing industry, cold storage industry, supermarkets, just to name as few. These employees can also be negatively impacted by cold work environments. These employees are also vulnerable if not properly protected and trained.
Frostbite occurs after prolonged exposure to low temperatures or wet working conditions. Frostbite can be dangerous and even life-threatening. That’s why it is important to look for the following symptoms when working in cold temperatures:
- Discoloration of the skin.
- Burning or tingling sensations.
- Partial or complete numbness.
- Intense pain.
To prevent frostbite, wear loose-fitting layers of clothing and always cover your hands, feet, nose and ears. At the first sign of pain or if your skin gets wet, look for a place to warm up. When working outside, be aware as winds increase. Heat is carried away from the body at a faster rate, making you feel colder than if there were no wind. When your body temperature drops, your nerve cells and muscles work more slowly, impairing your body function. This is easy to notice when tying a shoelace or fastening a button in cold weather.
Watch out for the effects of cold temperatures on common body functions, such as:
- Reduced dexterity and hand usage. (Cold tool handles reducing your grip force)
- The skin’s reduced ability to feel pain in cold temperatures.
- If you have arthritis or rheumatism, cold weather can create more pain problems for you.
Dress For the Job
Wearing the right clothes for the job is another crucial step you can take to reduce the risk of cold-induced injuries. Layer clothing to keep warm enough to be safe, but cool enough to avoid perspiring excessively. It should also contain the following:
- Inner layer – a synthetic weave to keep perspiration away from the body.
- Middle layer – wool or synthetic fabric to absorb sweat and retain body heat.
- Outer layer – material designed to break the wind and allow for ventilation, such as GORE-TEX®.
- Wear a hat. Almost 40 percent of your body heat escapes from your head. If you wear a hardhat, add a winter liner that covers your neck.
As with any workplace hazard, prevention is key to protecting employees. Employers should, therefore, train workers on the hazards of the job and safety measures to use, such as engineering controls and safe work practices, that will protect workers’ safety and health.