Beyond being intensely uncomfortable, working outdoors in cold weather can also be extremely dangerous. With the threats of frostbite, hypothermia, dehydration, and numbness, employees must be vigilant to avoid the dangers of working outdoors. Here are 5 tips to stay safe when the temperature starts to drop.
Employers should provide proper protective equipment, including clothing, hats, gloves, and ski masks, to keep employees warm and safe in cold weather. Your safety team leaders should consistently remind employees to wear the equipment provided, and any additional equipment necessary, to ensure their safety while working outside in winter months.
Employees should wear layers of loose protective clothing that doesn’t restrict movement while also keeping workers’ body temperatures in a healthy and safe range. Tight clothing should be avoided since they can reduce blood circulation and prevent warm blood from circulating to the extremities.
In addition to warm clothing, employees should expose as little skin as possible to cold temperatures. Managers should stress the importance of employees wearing gloves, hats, ski masks, and other protective equipment at all times during cold weather. Boots should be waterproof and insulated to keep feet warm and protected from frostbite.
Seek shelter frequently
When you work outdoors during cold weather, taking frequent breaks to warm up is vital. While it may seem like powering through and completing the job as quickly as possible is the way to go, employees should frequently take the opportunity to rest and warm up.
When working outdoors, employees should be encouraged to take frequent breaks in their work vehicles or take shelter indoors. During these breaks, employees should drink plenty of warm or lukewarm fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Check out our other Outdoor Work Safety Tips for Cold Weather to learn more ways to keep your workers safe in the field.
Know the warning signs
Hypothermia and frostbite are two of the most common dangers that employees working outdoors face during cold weather. When employees are working in the field, it’s especially critical for them to understand the warning signs and potential dangers.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. When your body temperature falls below 95 F, hypothermia begins to set in. Left untreated, hypothermia can lead to heart and respiratory system failure and death. Warning signs of hypothermia include:
● Slurred speech
● Slow, shallow breathing
● Weak pulse
● Loss of consciousness
Frostbite results when skin and underlying tissues are injured due to exposure to extreme cold weather. Frostbite occurs most frequently on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin, though even skin covered by gloves, shoes, and socks can be damaged by frostbite. Warning signs of frostbite include:
● Cold skin and a prickling feeling
● Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
● Hard or waxy-looking skin
● Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
● Blistering after rewarming
In addition to layering up, employees should be encouraged to stay dry when working outdoors in cold weather. Damp clothing can quickly cause an employee’s body temperature to drop, resulting in hypothermia.
Employees should be equipped with waterproof outer shell gear to prevent under layers from getting wet. Additionally, employees should wear a moisture-wicking base layer to draw sweat away from the body as they work – preventing their skin from becoming and staying damp. If an employee’s work clothing becomes wet while working outdoors in cold weather, they should immediately remove the wet clothing. For even more tips, check out our Cold Weather Safety Checklist.
When employees are working outdoors during wintry months, every work vehicle should be equipped with a cold weather safety kit. In an emergency at the worksite or if employees get caught in a snowdrift, these kits can help save lives.
Each kit should include emergency blankets, candles, and matches. Within the confines of the vehicle, blankets combined with candles can provide enough warmth to stave off hypothermia. Additionally, all vehicles should be regularly inspected to ensure that all equipment is in working order.
Your partner in safety
Keeping your workforce safe, especially during cold weather, is priority one for your company. Sheakley can help you develop better policies and provide assistance with developing safety programs to help you achieve your safety goals. Our experts are here to keep your employees and your business safe. Sheakley’s Workforce Management Services experts provide complete safety resources for your company.
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