The Farmer’s Almanac had predicted this winter would be colder than normal with above-average precipitation and snowfall. More than just inconvenient, these conditions can create additional hazards when working outdoors. Here are some tips for staying safe in winter weather:
- Limit exposure to the elements. When the wind and snow are blowing and temperatures are low, it can be hard to reduce skin exposure. The human body isn’t made to be outdoors in these elements for long periods of time, so work should be completed in shorter durations. Consider breaking up larger projects into smaller tasks. Make sure to head to warm areas for breaks such as a heated truck, trailer or building.
- Learn the common signs of frostbite and hypothermia. When it’s really cold outside, be sure to do some minor exercises to maintain good circulation. Clap hands, and move arms and legs every so often. Try not to stay in one position for too long. Avoid overexertion since cold weather puts a strain on the heart. Be sure to always work in pairs and never be on a project site alone. If anyone on your team starts exhibiting any signs of frostbite and hypothermia, call for medical attention right away.
- Wear the right gear. Slips and falls are among the most common construction site accidents, and when you add snow and ice to the mix, it just gets worse. Attach ice grippers to boots to protect against slips and falls. Make sure you’re wearing proper footwear: all work boots should be at least eight inches high with good ankle support. And be sure to keep your laces tied up at all times. Always wear multiple layers: the inner layer should provide insulation and repel moisture from the skin and the outer layer must be waterproof. If possible, wear a wool cap or liner under a hard hat to prevent heat loss. Avoid cotton because it tends to get damp. A warm pair of waterproof gloves are a must.
- Review work sites every day. Check for winter-specific hazards each day when entering your project site. Common hazards include snow and ice accumulation or downed power lines and trees. Inspect ladders and scaffolding for ice and snow. Chip away large patches of ice when possible and apply salt and/or sand. If you opt to use a portable heater on the project site, make sure it’s been inspected, and keep it a safe distance from any combustible or flammable materials.
- Keep your vehicles safe. Before heading out into the cold, inspect your vehicle to ensure that everything is functioning properly and that you have enough gas and windshield washer fluid. Add a winter emergency kit to your truck which should include an ice scraper, snow brush, shovel, flashlight with extra batteries, emergency flares, a blanket, snacks and water. When driving, use your full lighting system and take it slow.
Avoiding frostbite and hypothermia when working in winter conditions requires wearing the right gear. Make sure your work boots are at least 8 inches high with good ankle support. Dress in multiple layers and where possible, wear a wool cap or liner under your hard hat. A warm pair of waterproof gloves are a must.