We aren’t quite out of the winter cold streak especially here in Canada so here is some helpful information and tips for protecting your workers on outdoors job sites.
Types of Cold Risks
There are a number of stress factors and risks that can occur in the harsh cold environments. Below are the most common types of cold stress and how to respond.
Frostbite can occur when the skin and tissue become frozen, numb and hard. Warning signs include white or grey patches that develop on fingers, toes, nose, ears most commonly. It’s also possible for blisters to occur on these same areas and the worker could experience tingling, aching or even loss of feeling.
If frostbite occurs, move the worker to a warm and dry area. Slowly warm the affected area by placing it in a warm bath (around 105 degrees Fahrenheit) and monitor the water temperature. It’s important to not warm the affected area too quickly as this can cause tissue damage. Warming can take up to 40 minutes. Do not rub or pour water over the affected area. Once the area has been warmed and normal feeling has been returned it should be dried and wrapped to keep it warm. Seek medical attention as soon as possible as re-exposure to cold conditions can cause severe tissue damage.
Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95°F. This most commonly occurs in extreme cold or just cold if the person becomes wet. A common warning sign for this is extreme shivering; however, brain function can also be affected and cause loss of coordination, slurred speech, unconsciousness, and even death.
In case of hypothermia call 911 immediately and move the worker to a warm, dry area and remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing. Use layers and of blankets to wrap the entire body including head and neck. If you have them available, place hotpacks under the armpits, on the sides of the chest, and near groin. If the person is conscious give them warm sweetened fluids (no caffeine or alcohol). Do not rub the body or place them in a warm bath.
Trench / Immersion Foot
Trench foot is also known as immersion foot and can happen from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions; however, it’s more related to the feet being wet than cold because wet feet lose heat much more quickly. Symptoms include tingling, reddening, swelling, numbness or blisters on the feet.
Snow Blindless can be caused from the reflection of light off the snow. Symptoms include red, itchy eyes and increased sensitivity to light. To treat snow blindness, stay indoors and rest the eyes.
It’s important to remember that the wind can make the atmosphere considerably colder. Depending on the wind speed, it can make the outside temperature feel much colder and increase the risk of cold stress. The higher the wind chill, the faster it will be for frostbite to occur. Use this Wind Chill Calculator from the National Weather Service to calculate the wind chill temperature.
Who’s most at risk?
While cold weather can be hazardous for all workers, there are certain groups of people that have a higher risk of being affected. Workers with pre-existing health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and hypothyroidism, as well as the elderly or those in poor physical health are more at risk for cold stress. Be mindful of your workers’ health conditions to understand who might be more affected on the job site.
While cold weather may be inevitable during the winter months, there are many proactive steps you can take to prevent hazards and keep your workers safe. Below are the top cold weather safety tips for outdoor workers.
Train staff to recognize cold weather conditions and potential hazards.
It’s important to get ahead of the cold weather and make sure your workers are properly trained to recognize and treat weather related incidents. Familiarize your workers with the signs and symptoms of cold stress so they know what to be on the lookout for, as well as basic knowledge of first aid for treating cold-related incidents in the field. Make use of Workhub’s online training tool for this
Dress appropriately for the cold.
Maintaining proper body heat is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cold stress. Dress in loose layers that are not too tight or restrictive to maintain good blood circulation. It’s important to cover the head and neck, which is where the most heat loss can occur. Three layers of clothing are recommended:
- An inner layer made from synthetic fabric
- A middle layer made from wool or another synthetic fabric to provide insulation and absorb sweat
- An outer layer made from nylon or waterproof material to protect from the wind and cold
In addition, wear footwear or boots that are well insulated and change socks frequently to stay as dry as possible. Gloves or cold weather mittens should also be worn. Make us of Workhub’s policy and procedure tools for this
Seek shelter from winter weather.
Use existing buildings as a shelter during bad conditions or even use automobiles if necessary to take a break from the cold. Any shelter can be used that will protect workers from the wind and wintery elements.
Take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas.
When working in cold weather conditions, workers can become fatigued and can become affected much more quickly. Be sure to schedule frequent breaks in warm, dry areas to prevent cold stress.
Perform work during the warmest part of the day.
If possible, schedule work to be performed during the middle of the day when temperatures are likely to be higher. Check the weather forecast and plan work schedules accordingly.
Use salt to avoid slips and falls.
Snow and ice should be cleared from outdoor walking paths as quickly as possible after a winter storm. Spread salt on paved surfaces but be careful to avoid damage to nearby grass and plants. Encourage workers to walk slowly and wear proper footwear that is well insulated and made with rubber treads. Even when inside, be careful when walking on wet floors. These types of hazards can be easily highlighted with our incidents and hazards tool.
Provide warm fluids.
Whenever your workers are performing work in cold conditions, you should have warm, sweet fluids on hand. These can be sugar water or sports type drinks. It’s important to avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea, which can make conditions worse.
Equip vehicles with emergency kits.
In case of emergency, it’s a good idea to equip company vehicles with winter safety kits that include items like an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, a flashlight, extra batteries, a blanket, road maps, snacks, water, and a change of clothes. If stranded in a vehicle, it’s best to remain in the vehicle and call for emergency assistance. Make use of Workhub’s inspection management tool to be sure your vehicles are properly equipped
Be cautious when shoveling snow.
If shoveling snow is necessary on the job site, it’s important to use caution and monitor worker safety to avoid injury and exhaustion. Shovel fresh powdery snow as opposed to packed snow as it will be easier to lift. Advise workers to push snow if possible and always lift with the legs bent, not the back.
Many of these items can also be covered in routine toolbox talks and safety meetings.
Stay safe out there!
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