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Tips To Protect Workers in Cold Environments

Tips to protect your workers under cold or freezing weather.


Cold Weather
Photo by Striatic

Tips To Protect Workers in Cold Environments

Workers in cold environments are exposed and might present serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In certain instances, workers exposed to severe weather without personal protection equipment can also suffer shock that could lead to death. Workers under cold or frost weather might show some signs as uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech and erratic behavior. If you see someone with at least one of these signs, call for emergency help.

How to Protect: Workers in Cold Environments

OSHA’s cold stress card can serve as a reference guide to combat and prevent sickness or injuries related to cold weather. Some of these tips are:

  • Beware of the environmental conditions and the expected forecast for the day that could present some problems to your construction workers.
  • Identify the signs and symptom of cold-related illness and injuries.
  • Train your workers about these weather injuries and how to protect from them.
  • Provide or encourage construction workers to wear appropriate clothing, including the possibility of wearing layers that could be adjusted to various weather conditions.
  • Provide short breaks in warm environments allowing workers to warm up their bodies, or to dry their clothes.
  • Schedule work for the warmest part of the day. Moving the daily work hours to hottest hours or when the sun is at its maximum exposure.
  • Try to assign works to at least a pair of coworkers, so that anyone of them can be aware of the other.
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. It is recommended to replenish your body with sugar water, or regular sports drinks.
  • Follow medical recommendations if you are under medical advice or taking any other prescribed medicine.
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Protect Workers in Cold Environments: Clothing

Protective clothing is needed when work is expected to be executed at or below 4 degrees. Proper clothing should be selected to suit temperature, conditions, duration of the activity and place where the job will take place. Wearing proper clothing will reduce the possibilities of excessive sweating thus reducing the risk of a possible injury.

  • When possible wear multiple layers instead of single layer.
  • The inner layer must provide insulation and be able to repel moisture from the skin.
  • Thermal underwear from polyester is recommended.
  • External layers should be easily detachable.
  • The outer layer must be waterproof.
  • If possible a wool cap or a liner under a hard hat can reduce excessive heat loss.
  • Remove snow before entering warm shelter.
  • Gloves should be used when temperature is below 4 degrees, while mittens should be used for work below -17 degrees.
  • Avoid cotton cloth because it tends to get damp or wet.

Protect Workers in Cold Environments: Footwear

Workers in cold weather also need to wear proper footwear protection. When the work involves walking in water, waterproof boots must be worn. Leather boots can be treated and waterproofed with special products that do not block the pores in the boot surface. The best suited shoes are leather-topped boots with removable felt insoles.

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Protect Workers in Cold Environments: Socks

Wearing one or two pairs of thick socks is recommended if you want to protect your shoes. Having extra socks is preferred because socks tend to get damp during the day. The outer sock should be a larger size than the inner sock, to avoid extra compression.

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Protect Workers in Cold Environments: Equipment Design

Extra caution can also be implemented on metal handle bars and tools that must be operated in cold weather. Metal handles and bars should be covered by thermal insulating material. Machines, tools and equipment in general must be designed so they can be operated with proper grip using mittens or gloves.

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