Working in cold weather can be a serious, even life-threatening situation.
Crews and their managers all need to be prepared for winter weather and working in cold environments. Implementing safety measures and controls to ensure crews are compliant and safe is a critical piece of this. At IBT our goal is to always keep you and your workers safe. When most of us think of dangerous winter weather we think hypothermia and we imagine freezing temps, blizzards, and ice.
The reality—hypothermia can begin when the temperature is as warm as 40 ℉, sometimes even warmer if it is wet or windy. And while we typically think of hypothermia as the main cold-weather threat, there are other illnesses to be aware of as well. Cold-related illnesses like hypothermia, trench foot, and frostbite are when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature and are collectively known as “cold stress”.
Cold stress can be deadly! Personnel such as construction workers, dock workers, police officers, emergency responders, sanitation workers, and even forklift drivers who pick inventory in an unheated warehouse, can all be affected by cold stress. So below we are breaking down vital tips that will help ensure you and your crew stay safe this season.
Just like you would with any workout or exercise regimen, you want to always warm your body up before working in winter weather. Warming up your muscles and body before you start outdoor work can help you stay warmer longer, and prevent injuries. Whether its stretches, marching in place, jumping jacks doesn’t really matter. Just get that blood pumping! Warming-up will actually raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to your muscles. This is significant because increased blood flow will not only keep you warm but also loosen joints and prepare your body for physical activity.
2. Prevent Slips & Falls
Whether you work in a traditional office environment, are on a worksite, or another environment, there will always be some form of a walkway that will need to be cleared. Clear the snow as quickly as you can, and then apply an Ice Melt like Trailblazer Ice Melt to prevent re-freezing. To improve balance keep your hands out of your pockets. This will evenly distribute your weight, providing balance and reducing your risk for falling. For some work environments, Diamond Grip cleats like those from Implus can be a game-changer in preventing slips and falls.
3. Use Equipment Wisely
Using equipment in inclement weather can be great and very useful, but there are a few considerations to be aware of. Any powered equipment used should be properly grounded to protect workers from shock and electrocution. When working with snowblowers, workers should be cautious of jams. Never clear a jam while equipment is running or by hand and be sure to only add fuel when the unit is off and the engine has cooled. If you need to clear a jam, make sure the snowblower is disconnected from all power sources, wait for all parts to stop moving, and then with a long stick clear the debris or snow from the snowblower.
4. Take Short & Frequent Breaks
Once the work begins, be sure to take frequent, short breaks in a warm area. It doesn’t matter if it is an unheated warehouse, or out in the open during a storm, cold can creep in quickly. This is why taking short frequent breaks is so vital. It allows your body to warm up and dry off. Provide warm or sweet beverages like Sqwincher to ensure workers stay hydrated. Passive warmers can also help workers warm up quickly by placing them in gloves and boots.
Be sure that you have a reliable means of communication for you and your crew, especially when in remote areas. Take the time to also know the way the community warns the public about severe weather. When in doubt you can always use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio. Monitoring weather during a storm and having a dependable means of communication will ensure safety should workers need to stop work or evacuate.
6. Make a Plan
Before the snow or ice begins to accumulate, have a plan. Consider some of the following questions and what you need to understand or purchase in order to keep yourself and your crew safe this season.
- What tools, equipment, gloves or other personal protective equipment (PPE), will my workers need during inclement winter weather? Be sure to check inventory and confirm what you do or do not have.
- Does my crew need any training for our environment or the equipment we will be using? Workers should be familiar with the signs of cold stress and be able to indicate when a fellow worker is experiencing symptoms of cold stress.
- Does my crew know how to dress? Communicate the expectations for winter work apparel personal protective equipment and what you will, or will not be providing. This will ensure your workers come to their jobsite prepared and ready to perform the tasks at hand.
- Schedule work for the warmest parts of the day and employ the buddy system so that workers can keep an eye out for one another and potential symptoms of cold stress.
While communication and planning ahead may be the last steps listed here in our list, they should be the first steps you take to protect you and your crew. Working in winter weather, cold stress and the impact it has on individuals can be serious and life-threatening. Please, stay safe and compliant this season, be sure to follow our tips. Remember, if you ever feel unprepared or need direction on how to plan for winter safety, call us today and one of our knowledgeable product specialists can guide you and make recommendations that meet your needs!