It’s been a cold, snowy winter so far, and there’s no sign of it letting up! Despite harsh conditions, the show must go on and those who work outdoors face unique Health & Safety challenges. Here are some tips for staying safe and protected while working in winter weather conditions:
- Avoid slips, trips & falls. Keep walkways, stairways and other work areas clear. Eliminate hazards such as water on floors and snow on sidewalks immediately. Avoid carrying heavy loads that may compromise your balance and have your hands ready to steady yourself should you slip. Inspect ladders and scaffolding for ice and snow. Chip away large patches of ice when possible and apply salt and/or sand.
- Dress strategically. Wear warm, lightweight gloves and consider glove liners on really cold days. When the temperature plummets, eye protection may be needed – protective glasses must be separated from the nose and mouth to prevent fogging. Scarves are very effective at protecting the neck and chest from heat loss, and they allow easy adjustment or removal for cooling as needed. Make sure you’re wearing proper footwear: all work boots should be at least eight inches high with good ankle support. Attach ice grippers to boots to protect against slips and falls. Always wear multiple layers: the inner layer should provide insulation and repel moisture from the skin and the outer layer must be waterproof. Make sure work clothes are flexible and allow for the range of movement necessary to get the job done.
- Take refuge. The human body isn’t made to be outdoors in harsh elements for long periods of time, so work should be completed in shorter durations. Consider breaking up larger projects into smaller tasks. Make sure that your project site has a warm rest area. Where this is not possible, take breaks in your vehicle with the heater on. If portable heaters are used onsite, make sure they’ve been inspected, and keep it a safe distance from any combustible or flammable materials.
- Fuel up. Drink sweet beverages containing electrolytes such as sports drinks, and avoid caffeine which can increase the heart rate. Eat regularly and opt for warm, nutritious, high calorie food.
- 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.
- 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. Employ a buddy system and never be on a project site alone. If anyone on your team starts exhibiting signs of frostbite and hypothermia, call for medical attention right away.
By: Carmen Capitano, NCSO, GSC, Health, Safety & Training Manager