Working in Cold Weather Safely

Working in cold weather not only can be uncomfortable but also it can be deadly.  Whether you live and work in the North or South, you may face the same cold weather dangers.  The dangers of cold stress range from frostnip to hypothermia.  There are several cold stress prevention techniques that can be followed to reduce the risk of injury or death while working in cold weather.

Hazard Assessment

Before working in cold environments, employees should conduct a hazard assessment.  The hazard assessment will bring attention to the possible hazards encountered.  Specifically for cold weather, the tasks undertaken, wind chill, and environmental conditions must be assessed.  In addition, employees should be monitored throughout the day to assess their risk of cold stress.

Wind Chill Index

What is the wind chill index?  It is the cooling effect of the combination of the temperature and the wind.  Using the wind chill index will help you make a decision on the level of warm clothing to wear or even if work should be conducted at all.

Control Measures

The basic control measures are engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment (PPE).  Engineering controls can include warm air jets, radiant heaters, shields against the wind, and heated warming shelters.  Administrative controls are work practices or rules designed to reduce cold stress.  This includes scheduling warm-up breaks to drink warm beverages and eat high-calorie foods to boost energy levels.  Other examples of administrative controls include pre-planning the work to be done before being exposed to the cold conditions and knowing the dangers involved.  Appropriate clothing is PPE when it comes to cold weather work.  The correct clothing should allow body heat to be retained and should protect the feet, hands, head, and face.  Layers that include wool are essential here.

Cold Disorder Symptoms

It is essential to know how to recognize cold disorders when they occur.  These include frostnip, frostbite, trench or immersion foot, and hypothermia.  Frostnip is evident when the skin turns white.  As it worsens, it leads to frostbite and the skin actually freezes and loses water.  Standing in freezing water for long periods will cause trench or immersion foot.  Burning and blisters may be present in this case.  Before waterproof boots were made, this was a major problem faced by soldiers in war, some even led to amputation.  When the body loses heat faster than it can be replaced, hypothermia happens.  You may begin to shiver and then experience severe pain in your extremities.

First Aid and Training

Employees should know first aid techniques for the disorders and be trained to recognize and address them.  For frostbite, you should never rub the area, but you should warm gently in water that is gradually warmed up.  For hypothermia, any wet clothing should first be removed.  The body should be warmed up gradually with dry clothing and blankets and emergency medical help should be sought immediately.

Employees should be trained to know what conditions they face, and the proper practices needed to prevent injury.  This includes recognition of symptoms, possibly using the buddy system, and specific procedures to follow depending on the task.

The bottom line, working in cold weather can be very dangerous.  Assessing the risks involved and even stopping the work in advance can prevent injury and even death.

author avatar
Amber Hebert

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