Controlling the Cold: Safety Tips for Working in Winter Weather

Cold weather is upon us as we gear up for another Winter season. It is crucial that all workers in the industry are prepared to work in these cold weather conditions. We prepared Team D&B for the cold months ahead at the start of December during our monthly Safety Meeting. Our Superintendent, Jason, presented a Tool Box Talk on Cold Weather Considerations. Since safety is our standard we wanted to share some of the pointers our team discussed during our latest Safety Meeting:

-Wearing several layers of clothing is always more beneficial than wearing one thick layer when working in cold weather.

-Did you know that forty percent of a person’s body heat can be lost from an uncovered head?! Because of this, wearing a warm wool hat or a helmet liner under your hard hat is always a good idea. Be sure to cover your ears and remember to wear gloves, too!

-When it comes to footwear, wear one or two pairs of warm socks. Your footwear should not fit too tightly or it will restrict blood flow and ultimately cause more harm than good.

-In cold, windy weather it is a good idea to wear a face mask or scarf.

-You need energy to keep your muscles warm, making it important to avoid exhaustion and fatigue. Take frequent short breaks in a warm shelter so your body has time to warm up and relax.

-Drink warm, sweet beverages and avoid drinks with caffeine. Eat warm, high calorie food such as pasta dishes for lunch.

Tom Rinaldo, our Safety Director and Vice President of Construction for Reading and Central PA, also provided us with some helpful insight to common questions people tend to have regarding cold weather safety:

 

Q: What are some ways you keep warm when working outside in the cold?

A: “Proper attire during the cold weather months is a definite must. You definitely want to have proper socks and footwear. Keeping perspiration away from the skin is a big one. You want socks that wick sweat and perspiration. Wearing synthetic or cotton clothing next to your skin is the best way to wick away any sweat. If you keep that sweat away from your body, you won’t get as cold. The reason people’s feet get cold is from sweating, which happens even in the winter – especially when working on a construction site. The body can lose up to 85% of its heat through sweating during exercise. I recommend purchasing socks that wick the sweat away from your feet to help you stay a lot warmer. There are several different brands available. I believe Under Armour makes them, and Wick Dry CoolMax by Fox River is another go to brand.”

 

Q:  What different kinds of foods do you eat/drink in the winter to keep you warmer?

A: “You always need to stay hydrated. People don’t realize this, but even though it is Winter you still need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. You will see me with a thermos of hot soup for lunch instead of a cold sandwich in the winter time.”

 

Q:  Do you make sure you go somewhere warm for breaks in the colder weather? If so, where do you suggest?

A: “We usually tell the guys to go into their vehicles if they are out on an open construction site. If they are on an interior construction site there is usually heat on. At our job sites, we also have temporary heaters on. These are not only to keep the worker’s warm, but also for the product we are putting in. Once you get to drywall you have to condition the space.” 

 

Q:  What are some clothing layering methods you use?

A: “A very important factor is keeping the wind off you. When you layer your clothing your cutting the wind out from getting to your body. Having the proper gear, such as boots, gloves, and a hat are very important. Last month we got a new order of hats so our Team has them to put under their hard hat when on the job site.”

Tom usually wears three layers under his winter coat: A t-shirt, a long sleeve t-shirt, and a hoodie. He also wears long underwear, wicking Under Armour shirt, and Under Armour bottoms.

 

Q:  What are some ways that a Site Superintendent can help the men and women on their job sites stay warm? 

A: “Making sure they have the proper attire and making sure they are taking the proper number of breaks, especially when the temperatures get below 20 degrees. We typically have two 15-minute breaks throughout the day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, in addition to a lunch break. At D&B, we always educate our team on hypothermia at safety meetings and in our safety training. We know that one of the main injuries, according to OSHA, would be slips and falls. This, along with hypothermia, frostbite, ice, cold stress, and winter colds and flus are common winter hazards that we educate the team on.”

 

Q:  What do you recommend someone new to working in the cold weather prepares for?

A: “It is important that they make sure they have the right clothes. They may not be used to spending eight hours out on a construction site, so it is important that they have the proper gear for the elements. 

 

Q:   Are there any common misconceptions that people think are helpful in the cold, but are harmful?

A: “Coffee might warm you up for a few seconds, but since it contains caffeine it can increase your urination frequency and ultimately dehydrate you. Make sure you drink it in moderation to avoid this.”

 

Q:  Anything else you want to add?

A: “You have to know when your body is telling you to get away from the cold environment. Realizing the signs of cold stress, hypothermia, frostbite, etc. are important. Listen to your body. It will tell you when to stop doing what you’re doing.” 

Frostbite and Hypothermia: Two Serious Conditions That May Result from Prolonged Exposure to the Cold

Frostbite is an injury to the skin and underlying tissue. Most often it is found on a person’s nose, ears, fingers, or toes. One of the first symptoms are a “pins and needles” sensation followed by numbness or pain in the affected extremities. Hard, pale, and cold skin is a way of distinguishing frostbite. Once the area thaws, the flesh becomes red and very painful.

Below is an infographic illustrating signs of frostbite and some pointers on what you should and shouldn’t do if you or someone on your job site is affected:

 

Hypothermia is a medical condition in which the person’s core body temperature drops significantly below normal and normal metabolism begins to be impaired. This occurs when the core temperature drops below 95 °F (35 °C). If body temperature falls below 90 °F (32 °C) the condition can become critical and eventually fatal. It is important to note that Hypothermia can still occur at temperatures well above freezing when a victim is submerged in cold water.

Below is an infographic illustrating signs of hypothermia and some pointers on what you should and shouldn’t do if you or someone on your job site is affected:

 

 

Consider printing out OSHA’s Cold Stress Card in both English and Spanish to have on the jobsite for all workers safety. These cards include information on common types of cold stress, such as hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot (also known as Immersion Foot), as well as ways to prevent it and treat it.

We hope you find this article helpful as you and your team brave the cold winter months! If you have any additional tips, we’d love for you to share in the comments below. 

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