Protecting Construction Workers During the Winter
Workers in cold weather could be exposed to serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. In certain instances, workers exposed to severe weather without personal protection equipment (PPE) can also suffer shock that could lead to death.
Workers in weather where there is cold or frost might show signs such as uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, and erratic behavior. If you see someone with at least one of these symptoms, call for emergency help. Below you will find some tips and general recommendations on how to keep your construction crews warm during the winter season.
Cold Weather Guidelines
OSHA’s cold stress card can serve as a reference guide to combat and prevent sickness or injuries related to cold weather. While the OSHA guidelines help, there are many other precautions you can take on a cold-weather job site that will protect your workers.
- Beware of the environmental conditions and the expected forecast for the day that could present problems.
- Identify the signs and symptoms of cold-related illness and injuries.
- Train workers about weather injuries and how to protect themselves.
- Provide or encourage construction workers to wear appropriate clothing, including layers that could be adjusted to various weather conditions.
- Provide short breaks in warm environments for workers to warm up their bodies, or to dry their clothes.
- Schedule work for the warmest part of the day. Moving the daily work hours to hottest hours or when the sun is at its maximum exposure.
- Try to assign work to at least a pair of coworkers so that individuals can be aware of the other's status.
- Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol. It is recommended to replenish your body with sugar water, or regular sports drinks.
- Follow medical recommendations if you are under medical advice or taking any other prescribed medicine.
Required Clothing and Layering
Protective clothing is needed when work is expected to be executed at or below 40º F/4º C. Proper clothing should be selected to suit the temperature, weather conditions, the duration of the activity, and the location where the job will take place. Wearing proper clothing will reduce the possibilities of excessive sweating, thus reducing the risk of an injury.
- When possible wear multiple layers instead of a single layer.
- The inner layer must provide insulation and be able to repel moisture from the skin.
- Polyester thermal underwear is recommended.
- External layers should be easily detachable.
- The outer layer must be waterproof.
- If possible, a wool cap or a liner under a hard hat can reduce excessive heat loss.
- Remove snow before entering a warm shelter.
- Gloves should be used when the temperature is below 4º C/40º F and mittens should be for work below -17º C/2º F.
- Avoid cotton cloth because it tends to get damp or wet.
Workers in cold weather also need to wear proper footwear protection. When the work involves walking in water, waterproof boots must be worn. Leather boots can be treated and waterproofed with special products that do not block the pores in the boot surface. The best-suited shoes are leather-topped boots with removable felt insoles.
Wearing one or two pairs of thick socks is recommended if you want to protect your feet. Having extra socks are preferred because socks tend to get damp during the day. The outer sock should be a larger size than the inner sock, to avoid extra compression.
Equipment Design and Tools
Extra caution can also be implemented in metal handlebars and tools that must be operated in cold weather. Metal handles and bars should be covered by thermal-insulating material. Machines, tools, and equipment, in general, must be designed so they can be operated with a proper grip using mittens or gloves.