15th December, 2021
With the cold weather arriving, it brings 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, check out these 7 health tips for surviving winter work outdoors.
Now we are in the midst of winter, there's no escaping the freezing temperatures. And there are a few months left of the cold weather to get through. 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:
It might seem super obvious, but one of the easiest ways to protect yourself against the cold is to wrap up warm. We might not have control over the weather, but we can control what we wear.
Layering up your clothing is a simple way to stop your body heat from escaping, and keep you warm. Wear several layers of suitable clothing and PPE for protection, particularly in cold, windy, icy or snowy conditions.
If you get wet in cold weather, for example, in the rain, sleet or snow, you'll get cold quickly. Wet clothes don't do much for insulation or retaining body heat. Working undercover can help prevent this, but it's not always possible.
If you are out in wet winter weather, make sure you wear a waterproof top layer to stay dry. And if you do get wet, dry off and change into a dry set of clothes to get warm again.
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.
If workers show signs of shivering and loss of coordination, they are at increased risk of accidents. But it also means that their health is suffering. They are being affected by the cold. If you ignore it, it will get worse.
If you start shivering, don’t keep working. If you are struggling with the cold, stop and warm up. Get to a warm rest area, and slowly warm up. Grab a warm snack or drink. Once you have warmed up, add more layers or change into warmer clothes before you go back out.
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.
Hypothermia is a dangerous drop in body temperature below 35C (normal body temperature is around 37C). It's a medical emergency that needs to be treated in hospital.
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.
Warm rest areas give your body the chance to recover from battling the cold. 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 at 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.
Don't just rely on clothing to keep you warm. Even if you're outside, you can get protection from the elements. Where extra control measures can help create a safer (and healthier) work environment, use them!
Temporary roofs, scaffold sheeting and other temporary shields can 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 get out of 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.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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