Working in the cold winter weather is very similar in some ways as working in the extreme heat: you have to be prepared for it, you have to be equipped for it and you have to get accustomed to it.
For example, it is easy to become dehydrated in cold weather. Typically we think of that as a heat related issue but it holds true for the cold also. Drink plenty prior to working. Warm sweetened liquids can be especially helpful. Avoid alcoholic drinks. Remember, it is as important to hydrate yourself PRIOR to starting work as it is during the actual physical activity.
Dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. The type of fabric worn also makes a difference. Cotton loses its insulation value when it becomes wet. Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet. The following are recommendations for working in cold environments:
- Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation. Do not wear tight fitting clothing. ◦An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic to keep moisture away from the body. ◦A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet. ◦An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
- Wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
- Use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth (if needed).
- Use insulated gloves to protect the hands (water resistant if necessary).
- Wear insulated and waterproof boots (or other footwear).
Similar to the heat, you have to allow yourself to get acclimatized to the cold weather. The first day out in frigid weather can be challenging. It is best to start off very slowly and allow you body to get used to the weather. It is also important that if you are doing a very active job outside, that you do stretching exercises inside prior to starting the tasks outside. This allows your muscles to warm up appropriately rather than the initial shock of being active in a very cold environment.
If possible, schedule heavy work during the warmer part of the day. Employers can assign workers to tasks in pairs (buddy system), so that they can monitor each other for signs of cold stress. Workers can be allowed to interrupt their work, if they are extremely uncomfortable. Employers should give workers frequent breaks in warm areas.
Other Safety Tips:
- Know the symptoms of cold stress.
- Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
- Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body.
- Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change
- Use proper engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by your employer.