Friday, September 4, 2015

Winter is Coming: Safety Tips for Working Outside

With fall only a few weeks away (the autumnal equinox is on Sept. 23) and winter coming soon after, workers need to be prepared to work safely in the colder weather. Instead of guarding against the sun, ticks, and mosquitoes, workers’ most important task is to be mindful of their physical condition, their clothing and their environment when the temperature drops.

Here are some answers to common questions you may have if you work outside regularly during these months:

What happens if I work in the cold without proper safety precautions?
According to OSHA, the cold will begin to reduce body temperature and the body reacts by using its energy to keep a healthy core body temperature. Too much time in the cold weather will cause the body to gradually shift heat from the extremities, such as the hands, feet and arms, to the chest and the abdomen. This can lead to hypothermia, frostbite and other cold-related illnesses.

What can you do to ensure your safety while working in the cold weather?

  • A good way to start is to protect any part of your body that will be exposed to the cold and to dress properly. For example, your hands. Make sure to cover them with heavy gloves (in case you don’t know which ones, you can find a guide to different types of work gloves here) to protect them from frostbite, which is the freezing of the skin and skin tissues.

  • Building on that, another thing you can do is make sure you have your PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) gear in good condition. There is PPE gear available for eye and face, head and neck, hand and arm, and even foot protection. The gear is designed to keep workers safe in hazardous conditions, including cold weather.
  • Furthermore, OSHA recommends that people familiarize themselves on the different cold-related illness, learn to identify them and learn the steps to treat them. This reduces the risk of cold-related illnesses.
  • You should also make sure to protect your work area from the cold as much as possible. Put a radiant heater near your area to give you some extra heat and shield your area from the drafts and winds.
  • Finally, you should mindful of your body’s needs and be a friend. It’s very easy to get dehydrated while working in cold weather and you must make sure you have warm liquids on hand to warm you up. If you’re working with someone else, make sure they are also drinking plenty of fluids and taking breaks from working in the cold.

Dressing well seems to be really important. Can you recommend must-have clothing items for working in the cold?
Sure. First off, make sure to wear at least three layers of loose clothing. Do not wear anything tight. Top it off with a hat to keep your head warm and keep heat from escaping your body. Next up is the extremities. Wear heavy duty gloves to protect the hands and water resistant gloves if you’re going to be working near water. Finally, wear waterproof boots.

What is hypothermia and why does everyone talk about it?
Hypothermia is one of the most common cold-related illnesses and it’s something that can definitely happen if you work in the cold unprotected. Basically, the body loses heat faster than it produce heat. Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops to below 95 F. Your body’s organs need to a temperature of about 98.6 (the normal body temperature) in order to function properly and can’t function correctly at a lower temperature. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, dizziness, hunger, nausea, faster breathing and lack of coordination.