Whether you are simply heading outside to try and shovel the snow that has accumulated on your driveway, or have a construction job that forces you to be outside for long hours during the coldest months of winter, you need to take measures to stay safe while working in extreme cold weather. In the United States, an average of 1,300 people die each year due to cold exposure.
Though not all of those deaths occur in working situations, people whose jobs require them to be exposed to cold temperatures for extended periods of time are at increased risk for a number of adverse health related problems. In this short article, we take a look at some of the specific dangers that come with being exposed to cold temperatures during long work days, and then offer a few cold weather safety tips in the workplace.
Potential Health Problems Associated with Working in the Cold
Working outside without adequate protective clothing during the coldest months of the year can lead to a number of potentially dangerous health problems. Some of the adverse health conditions associated with extended exposure to cold weather include:
- Hypothermia: According to the CDC, hypothermia is caused by “prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it's produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body's stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.” The first signs of hypothermia include slurred speech, shivering, weakness, confusion, drowsiness and/or loss of consciousness. Because hypothermia affects the brain, people who begin to develop this condition may be initially unaware of the gravity of the problem. If left untreated, hypothermia can result in death.
- Frostbite: Frostbite occurs when our limbs or other parts of our body are exposed to freezing temperatures. It causes a loss of feeling and color in the exposed parts of the body, most commonly in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. In extreme cases, frostbite can lead to amputation as it essentially kills the affected tissue.
- Heart Problems: Lastly, because of increased workload on the heart, extended exposure to cold weather can also increase the chance of heart attack. This is especially true for people who have pre-existing heart conditions.
Working in the Cold Tips
Fortunately, there are several things that workers can do to adequately protect themselves when working outside in the winter. Some of the “best practices” policies and protocols to protect worker safety in the winter might include:
- Provide adequate clothing: Layering clothing is generally the best strategy for staying protected from the cold. However, loose and bulky clothing might also present a work hazard, especially if working around machinery. Provide high-performance fabrics in several layers that do not restrict worker movement.
- Protect Extremities: Make sure your workers have gloves, warm socks, and face coverings to protect the areas of the body that are most prone to frostbite. Also, insulated boots can go a long way in helping to keep feet warm during long, cold days at work.
- Periodic temperature readings: To avoid cases of hypothermia, you might consider installing an electronic or infrared thermometer in your outdoor work environment. Anytime a worker’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, he or she should immediately be moved indoors to warm back up.
- Provide for break times: More frequent, shorter breaks in heated, indoor area can also play an important role in avoiding health problems related to cold exposure. If there is no indoor area, consider purchasing outdoor heaters where workers can warm up periodically throughout the day.
- Provide warm beverages and high calorie foods: Lastly, providing warm beverages and high calorie foods can also help workers keep their body temperatures up to avoid any adverse health problems.
With these working in cold weather safety tips, your company should be able to develop pertinent health protocols that will protect the wellbeing of your workers. You could also consider hiring experts in injury prevention to help you discover and implement the best cold weather safety tips for your specific workplace.
Protect Your Workforce With Work-Fit
Work-Fit is a nationwide leader in providing onsite and virtual injury prevention and management for your workforce. Our injury prevention program helps promote a workplace culture of wellness that increases productivity rates and creates savings on employer healthcare costs.
For companies and industries who have employees working in cold weather conditions, our professional advice can not only help to keep your workers safe and healthy and limit workers compensation claims, but also boost productivity and job satisfaction. Contact Work-Fit today to see how we can help your company improve the health and safety of your workforce during the coldest months of the year.