What dangers do workers face when working outside in the winter?
Winter weather presents a unique challenge for people who work outside. The cold, snow, and ice – sometimes a mixture of all three – leave workers open to several hazards including frostbite and slips or falls on icy thoroughfares (learn more about these hazards in Holiday Hazards: Cold, Snow and Ice). It’s important to have a well-trained team that understands the signs and symptoms of cold stress, how to treat cold-induced reactions, and the ways to stay safer on slippery surfaces.
Cold stress refers to any illness or injury brought on by the cold, most commonly hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. Even at 40°F, it is possible to develop symptoms, especially if workers are wet from rain or snow or if there are high winds that contribute to an added wind chill factor. Workers should be aware of shivering, disorientation and loss of coordination in themselves or their coworkers as these are the most common signs of cold stress and hypothermia. In later stages, workers suffering from hypothermia will have dilated pupils, slow pulse, and may even lose consciousness (get more information in Cold Stress: Your Winter Safety Guide).
Another winter hazard is the increased opportunity to have an accident due to slippery walkways and roadways. Slips, falls, and vehicle accidents can happen at any time but factoring in black ice, thawing snow and ice, and hidden ice patches increases the risk for workers during winter months. Be sure your workers know to take extra care when moving about in the snow and ice.
The good news is that many cold weather illnesses and injuries are preventable with proper protective clothing and taking a little extra time to get around. The best protective measures include wearing loose layers, keeping skin covered, and avoiding getting wet. If workers do get wet, they should change out of the wet clothes as soon as possible because wet skin loses heat faster than dry skin. With the proper precautions and awareness of potential dangers, workers can stay safe and warm when working outside in the winter.
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