Nate Healy
Healy

Each day, thousands of construction workers battle the elements — particularly snow, ice and cold weather — while making a living on the job. Working safely in these conditions requires focus and a strong commitment to safe working practices. Tasks that were “simple” in warmer months may now be more difficult due to freezing temperatures. Staying warm while working is only part of the battle; slip hazards, bulky clothing, and cold-related illnesses also come to the forefront while working in the winter months.

Slippery Work Surfaces

A typical construction work site has the potential for slip, trip and fall hazards. This is amplified in the winter in locations where temperatures dip below freezing. Snow and ice-covered walking and working surfaces must be addressed to prevent injuries. In theory, the solution for preventing slips caused by snow and ice is simple: remove the snow and ice. However, realistically we know this can be difficult to manage at each work location. Finding what works for each location will be the key to success. Some options include:

  • Applying salt or other ice-melting applications to a variety of surfaces to help prevent and remove the buildup of snow and ice.
  • Applying sand or other fine aggregate to working and walking surfaces to add traction and friction for employees, vehicles and mobile equipment.
  • Building temporary heated structures to cover and surround common walking and working areas to avoid snow accumulation and hinder the formation of ice.
  • Attaching specifically designed traction aids to a work boots and shoes.

Determining the best solution or preventative measure can only be decided by those working and by conducting a thorough Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) at your specific work location. Regardless of the preventative method chosen, as always, the focus should be placed on mitigating the hazards and keeping safety a priority in every facet of work performed.

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Stay Warm, Stay Safe

Dressing appropriately for work activities and temperatures is something that those working in cold climates must perfect. The clothing you wear may have a direct impact on your safety while on the job. For example, if you wear too bulky of clothing you will not be able to move with ease, making your tasks more difficult and potentially more dangerous. If you replace your safety clothing (i.e. FRC) with warmer clothing, you are leaving yourself exposed to a potential injury.

It is recommended to dress in layers of close-fitting clothing. Layers can easily be added or removed as the temperatures and activities change throughout the day. Also, by wearing close-fitting layers, you avoid unnecessary entanglement hazards caused by over-sized and bulky outerwear. It is important to be able to perform your job safely while staying warm. Ensure all your PPE is still able to be worn and worn properly. Hard hats, safety-toed boots, protective gloves, and high-vis clothing must still be worn as required, regardless of temperatures outside. Do not sacrifice your safety because of additional clothing.

Staying warm may not always mean simply wearing more clothing. Adding warm-up breaks or temporary heating sources are good ways to keep your fingers and toes warm and prevent cold-related illnesses. Two of the most common concerns on the minds of those working in cold temperatures are frostbite and hypothermia. Keeping your extremities and core body temperature warm is critical to staying healthy.

Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing body tissue. The most susceptible parts of the body are the extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the extremity and a white or pale appearance. Medical attention is needed immediately for frostbite. The area should be SLOWLY re-warmed. Prevention of frostbite is always preferred over treatment of frostbite. Keep your extremities warm while working.

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature (below 95 F). Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. Medical attention is needed immediately. If it is not available, begin warming the body SLOWLY. Much like frostbite, prevention is the best medicine. Wear proper clothing and keep dry while working to help keep a consistent body temperature.

With proper planning, working in cold or freezing environments safely is possible and is accomplished by thousands every day each winter. Focus on removing the slip hazards from our walking and working surfaces and dress appropriately to protect yourself while staying warm.

Nate Healy is senior director of health, safety and environment at Michels Corp. He has more than a decade of experience in the field and in leadership positions.

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