• Working Safely in Cold Weather: Dealing With Cold Stress, Snow and Ice

    Is it just me, or does it seem like it isn’t going to get warm anytime soon? Some news outlets are reporting the cold will be with us for at least snowed in construction siteanother week. For those who have to work in this weather, extra safety precautions should be taken.

    Generally speaking, workers working outside, in this freezing cold, are in danger of illnesses due to cold stress, or accidents due to snow and ice. Consequently, you should focus your safety precautions in these two areas.

    Dealing With Cold Stress

    Just as extreme heat can cause heat stress, extreme cold can result in cold stress. According to the National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH), cold stress are a number of medical conditions resulting  from prolonged exposure to extreme cold that, if left untreated can result in serious injuries, or even death. NIOSH lists hypothermia, cold water immersion, trench foot, frost bite and chilblains as types of cold stress.

    Each type of cold stress has different signs, symptoms, and first aid treatments, which you could read more about here. The good news is you don’t need to follow different prevention measures for each one. In fact, NIOSH recommends the following safety tips for dealing with cold stress in general:

    • Wear the appropriate clothing. Clothes should be layered and loose. Layered clothes insulate better, while loose clothes allow better circulation. However, be sure to layer clothes in a way that does not radically restrict movement as this can be hazardous in of itself.
    • Protect your face, ears, hands and feet. Be sure to wear a hat as this reduces the amount of body heat escaping through your head. Use insulated work gloves for your hands and winter liners for the face. As much as possible, boots should be both waterproof and insulated.
    • Always take your breaks indoors, in a properly warmed area. In extremely cold days, limit the amount of time you spend outside.
    • Bring cold weather gear like an overcoat, as well as extra gloves, socks, blankets, a change of clothes, etc. Also, bring a thermos jug of hot liquid, but avoid drinks with too much caffeine.
    • Stock your first aid kits with a thermometer and chemical hot packs, if these are not part of your first aid inventory already.
    • Never touch cold metal surfaces with your bare hands.
    • Be extra mindful of your physical condition as well as those of your co-workers. Implement a buddy system.

    Dealing With Snow and Ice

    Cold weather brings with it snow and ice. Both can create slippery conditions increasing slip and fall hazards. Ideally, if work cannot be re-scheduled, snow and ice buildup should be removed with commercially-available deicers. This is especially important if you are working on roofs. Besides creating slippery conditions, snow buildup can hide skylights, through which your workers can fall, if they happen to step into them.

    It should be remembered, deicing roofs is a risky task in of itself. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends using aerial lifts or ladders for safer application of deicers. Besides deicing, you should also wear the proper fall protection equipment when working on an elevated area.

    As previously mentioned, you’ll need insulated work boots to protect your feet. The proper work boots can also protect against slips and falls if these have ideal rubber treads. You could also opt for a pair of rubber over-shoes with the proper tread design or steel snow shoes. Both are relatively easy to wear and can be slipped on quickly. Whichever you choose, remember to take short steps and walk at a slower pace. This will decrease the chances of slips even further.

    How Cold Is Too Cold

    Some of you may be wondering: should I even be working if the weather is too cold? The thing is, cold weather is rather unpredictable; a previously ideal working condition can change almost without warning. Furthermore, wind and moisture can both make cold days even colder. As previously mentioned, if the task at hand isn’t crucial then maybe it could be re-scheduled. OSHA for its part suggests scheduling outdoor work during warmer times of the day and reducing the time your workers are exposed to the cold, if work can’t be re-scheduled.

    Since the cold doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and there are just some work that need to be done, the best we can do is to work safely. Hopefully these tips can contribute to a safer work environment.

    For other cold weather safety tips, you can read OSHA’s take on winter work safety here and here.


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