Winter Safety for Working Outdoors
We’re in the coldest part of the year, and many in our country are enduring frigid temperatures, bitter wind chills, and freezing precipitation. Some days, just being outside is a safety hazard. Winter safety for people who work outdoors can save lives and limbs. In this post, we’ll go over some ways to keep workers safe during the coldest season of the year.
Look Out for Cold Stress
According to the CDC, anyone who works in a cold environment may be at risk of cold stress. Cold stress covers a range of cold-related injuries and illnesses, including hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot (immersion foot). Winter safety should include measures to prevent cold stress.
When your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, resulting in a dangerously low body temperature, that’s hypothermia, and it’s a medical emergency. According to the Mayo Clinic, the heart, nervous system, and other organs cannot function normally when body temperatures go below 95 degrees (F). Hypothermia can lead to complete heart and respiratory failures.
Identifying the signs of hypothermia is critical to winter safety. Symptoms include:
- Slurred Speech
- Shallow Breathing
- Slow or Weak Pulse
- Loss of Consciousness
Frostbite injuries are caused by the freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. In its early stages, it’s known as frostnip, and there is no permanent damage at this stage. Signs of frostnip include cold skin, discolored skin, a prickling feeling, and numbness. Frostnip is easily treated by rewarming the affected areas. As the injury progresses to frostbite, medical attention is required because it can cause permanent damage.
When skin is exposed to winter weather, it’s most vulnerable to frostbite. However, skin covered by gloves and other clothing can also be susceptible with increased time in the cold or in worsening conditions. People may not always realize they are suffering from frostnip or progressing to frostbite, so it’s a winter safety must for anyone working outdoors to know the signs. Frostbite symptoms include:
- Skin Color Changes (e.g., red, bluish-white, greyish-yellow, purple, brown, or ashen)
- Hard or Waxy-looking Skin
- Joint and Muscle Stiffness
- Blistering after Rewarming (even hours or days later)
Wet and cold are a bad combination, especially for the skin. According to the CDC, trench foot occurs when feet are wet for long periods of time. The foot may be red and painful as it’s rewarmed and blisters may form. To avoid this condition, workers should clean and dry their feet regularly and wear clean, dry socks. The symptoms of trench foot are similar to frostbite and include:
- Tingling or Itching Sensations
- Cold and Blotchy Skin
- Heavy Feeling in the Foot
Dress for the Weather
Winter safety requires workers to dress for the weather, and that means using the right cold-weather PPE (personal protective equipment). When working outdoors in the winter, workers should wear insulated, waterproof gear. Here are some basic guidelines for dressing for cold weather:
- Wear Insulated Outerwear
- Use Insulated Gloves
- Select Proper Footwear
- Cover Your Head
- Wear Three or More Layers
- Keep Moisture Away
- Avoid Tight Clothing
Limit Time in Wintery Conditions
The CDC recommends people find ways to limit their time spent outside in inclement conditions. Winter safety measures should include:
- Breaks in warm locations
- Working in shifts
- Scheduling work during warmer parts of the day
Prevent Slips and Falls
With the cold, wet weather of winter comes the increased risk of slips and falls in the workplace. OSHA recommends that employers “clear snow and ice from walking surfaces, and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm.” Workers should wear footwear with good traction and take short steps at a slower pace when walking on snow or ice is unavoidable. Snow removal can create unique fall hazards. Workers should take great care and follow fall safety guidance when removing snow from elevated surfaces.
Safe Winter Driving
According to the National Weather Service, weather-related crashes cause more than 480,000 injuries and 6,000 deaths each year. Winter safety programs should address the hazards of winter driving. The United States Department of Transportation provides the following tips for winter driving:
- Ready Your Vehicle: Keep vehicles in good working order, paying extra attention to batteries and tires. Before hitting the road, clear the vehicle of snow, ice, and dirt, including its windows, sensors, and lights.
- Ready Yourself: Drive slowly. If the weather is near freezing, drive as though conditions are icy (because they very well may be). It’s harder to stop and control your vehicle on slick, icy roads, and increased speed exacerbates these issues.
- Ready for an Emergency: No matter how careful you are accidents can happen and vehicles can break down. Stock vehicles with blankets, flashlights, jumper cables, and flares.
We Can Help with Winter Safety
We’re here to help with your winter safety needs. Check out our Winter Products Guide for the equipment and gear you need to fight the cold and stay safe. And if you need advice or guidance from one of our safety experts, contact us today!