On-the-Job Winter Safety
If you or your employees work in a field and location where winter weather presents some safety concerns, you may wish to take some precautions. Winter presents safety hazards in possible frostbite, wind-chapped skin, and hypothermia, and winter weather can often be severe enough to cause amputation or death. The following are some free tips to offer your employees if they are working in severe winter elements:
- Dress warm enough to withstand the lowest forecasted temperature or wind chill temperature. Dress in layers you can remove if you begin to sweat, because sweating will increase your chance of hypothermia.
- Cover all of your exposed skin in sub-zero weather, including your face, your hands, your neck, and your eyes (wearing goggles can protect the skin around your eyes).
- Wear long underwear rated for cold weather. The best winter weather underwear will be made of polypropylene to keep water away from the skin.
- Wear mittens instead of gloves, if possible, because when your fingers touch one another, they will maintain more warmth. Do not take your mittens or gloves off for extended periods of time, and never take them off in extreme sub-zero temperatures. Your fingers and toes are subject to frostbite the quickest because they are farthest from your core and have the smallest surface area.
- Wear proper socks and boots. Waterproof boots will keep your feet dry, while multiple layers of socks and spare socks offer you the opportunity to remove or add layers.
- Take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas to warm up.
- Drink warm, sweet beverages that do not contain caffeine or alcohol.
- Eat hot, high-calorie foods to encourage your body to burn the foods and keep you warm.
- Work during the warmest part of the day, and work in pairs or groups
- Do not overwork yourself or work to exhaustion, because you may expend all of the energy needed to keep your muscles warm.
Frostbite and Hypothermia Symptoms and Treatments
Be sure you and your employees know the signs of frostbite, hypothermia, and wind-chap. As you work, you expend energy slowly, and you may not notice the symptoms. Having a buddy to watch out for you can help you both identify symptoms. Frostbite symptoms and treatment include:
- Loss of sensations / loss of feeling in your extremities
- Skin will be flushed before turning grayish yellow or white.
- Skin will feel cold to the touch.
- Treat frostbite by moving the person to a warm area. Remove any clothing that may affect circulation. If there is no danger of the affected area becoming cold again, submerge the affected area (hands, feet, etc.) in warm (105 degrees Fahrenheit) water for 25 to 40 minutes. Then keep the area warm and dry, and seek medical assistance.
Hypothermia symptoms and treatments include:
- Body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
- May exhibit slow speech, memory lapse, uncontrollable shivering, and stumbling.
- Treat hypothermia by moving the person to a warm area. Remove cold clothing and dress them in warm clothing. Wrap the entire body in blankets to warm the core first. Offer warm, sweet drinks without caffeine or alcohol. Never rub limbs because the coldest blood is in the limbs, and stimulating the limbs will drive the cold blood to the heart, causing heart failure.
Winter work can be safe work if the proper precautions are taken. Making sure your workers know how to work in winter weather and how to identify and treat frostbite and hypothermia will help your business keep your employees safe.