With the cold weather arriving, it brings with it some additional hazards at work, particularly for those that spend some, or most of the working day outside. As the temperature drops and the nights draw in, winter working can be miserable if you don't plan ahead and protect yourself.
Some of the safety risks associated with winter working are well known. Ice, leaves and wet weather increasing the risks of slips. Extreme winds increasing the potential of accidents and making lifting operations and work at height difficult.
But what about your health? It's important to remember that the health of workers can also be at risk in the cold. Long term exposure can have a lasting impact, damaging nerves. And short term exposure can be deadly if shock and hypothermia set in. If you're miserable and cold all day at work, mental health can suffer too. But, before you despair, there are steps you can take to make winter work a little more comfortable and to protect your health.
Here are 7 health tips for surviving winter work:
One of the most obvious forms of protection against the cold is to wrap up warm. We don't have control over the weather, but we can control what we wear. Layering up is a simple way to stop your body heat escaping, and helps keep you warm. Several layers of suitable clothing and PPE must be suitable for protection against the cold particularly in cold windy, icy or snowy conditions.
If you're likely to get wet due to the weather, you'll get cold quickly. Change into a dry set of clothes to get warm again.
If workers show signs of shivering and loss of coordination, not only does this in itself increase the risk of accidents but also shows they are being affected by the cold. Shivering is an early sign that your body is struggling to keep warm, and ignoring it could lead to more serious problems, like confusion and hypothermia.
Don’t keep working. If you are struggling with the cold, stop and warm up. Add more layers or change into warmer clothes.
Shivering isn't the only early warning sign of a problem with the cold. if you get too cold, shivering will stop as hypothermia sets in. Workers need to be aware of the symptoms of cold stress and the early signs of hypothermia and take action to prevent illness from the cold. Slurred speech, memory loss and cold pale or blue skin are all indicators that quick action is needed.
Look out for:
If you're working outside in the cold, or in a cold environment where a reasonable temperature cannot be maintained, you need regular breaks from the cold.
Welfare and rest facilities provide a warm place of rest to allow the workforce to get a break and warm up. Frequent breaks should be encouraged to give opportunities to warm through, and change gloves, socks and other clothing if it has become wet.
Workplace heating such as fixed or portable heaters should be considered, especially in rest areas where workers come to warm up. Rest areas should always be at a reasonable temperature, especially if the work area is cold. This is good for workers health, and productivity, because if you get too cold, you won't be able to do your best work.
It is important to allow your body to warm up to a reasonable and comfortable temperature.
Keeping warm in the winter is a task in itself. Add wind, rain, snow and ice to the mix when working outside, and it can be near impossible to stay a comfortable temperature. Freezing rain and wind can make the temperature feel much colder than it is, and quickly draw heat away from the body.
But even if your outside, you can get protection from the elements. Temporary roofs, scaffold sheeting and other temporary shields can be used to protect your outdoor work environment from the weather, reducing the wind chill factor, keeping you dry and minimising draughts.
We've talked about getting warm from the outside, but you can also get warm from the inside. Warm drinks and snacks, especially warm liquids like soups, teas, coffees and hot chocolates can also help maintain body temperature during rest periods. This does two things. Fills you with something warm, and gives your body the extra energy it needs to keep you warm as you work.
And let's face it, it's a lovely feeling to come in from the cold and warm your cold hands on a hot mug.
Winter working isn't always pleasant, especially if you're out in the cold, but hopefully, these 7 tips will help. Download the free toolbox talk for cold environments, and the winter working toolbox talk, to raise awareness and provide training on your sites.