Winter Construction Worker Image

Tech Forum: Winter Weather Tips – Keeping Workers Safe on the Jobsite

Syed Imtiaz is in charge of health and safety at Fer-Pal Infrastructure.

Working outside in winter weather can be challenging, but with the right precautions and preparation, you can stay safe and comfortable.

In colder climates potable water construction activities typically take a pause over the winter months. That does not mean that contractors should not be prepared to work in cold winter weather conditions.

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Staying warm and dry while working in winter weather helps workers stay alert and focused on the task at hand. In doing so, this helps avoid any mistakes and injuries from occurring. Exposed skin and the extremities cool rapidly and the risk of frostbite and hypothermia increases.

When a person’s internal temperature drops, the onset of hypothermia symptoms may cause workers to lose coordination, have slurred speech, and fumble with items in the hand. If the body temperature continues to fall these symptoms will worsen and shivering will stop. Workers may be unable to walk or stand. Once the body temperature falls to around 85 F severe hypothermia will develop and the person may become unconscious, and at 78 F, the person could die.

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Winter Weather Attire

The most important thing to remember while working outside in the cold is to dress appropriately. It is essential to wear warm clothing, including layers, a hat, gloves and waterproof boots. Three layers of clothing is preferred, as well as having insulated boots or socks. Hats are also incredibly important as 40 percent of body heat can be lost via the head. Avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture and can make you feel colder. This is important when working with water as staying dry can be difficult. Instead, opt for moisture-wicking fabrics like wool, flannel or other synthetic materials that dry quickly.

It is also essential to protect your skin properly while working in the cold. With more layers on, we often forget to project ourselves from the sun in the winter, however faces are often exposed. The sun is as dangerous in the winter as it is in the summer and with colder winds, workers are subject to windburn as well. Workers need to be protected from extreme conditions, which could even be above-freezing temperatures. When the air temperature is 40 F and the wind speed is 35 mph, your exposed skin receives conditions equivalent to the air temperature being 11 F. Sunscreen and lip balm are important to protect what is exposed to the elements.

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Taking breaks out of the cold will help employees stay warm and alert. Scheduling time for these breaks is important to allow employees to warm up and refocus. During those breaks it is encouraged for employees to consume warm, high calorie food and drink as the body burns more fuel while working in the cold.

Next it is essential to stay hydrated. Even though it’s cold outside, it’s important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. It is easy to forget to drink enough water when the sun isn’t as warm as the temperatures are cold. That being said, dehydration can lead to fatigue and impair your ability to work safely.

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In addition to ensuring workers are protected properly, it is also important to ensure jobsites are safe and free of hazards. The acronym RaSUTSS can be used to help cover the main areas of concern and is listed below.

Radiant heaters may be used to warm workers.

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Shielding work areas from drafts or wind will reduce wind chill.

Use insulating material on equipment handles, especially metal handles, when temperatures drop below 30 F.

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Training in recognition and treatment is important.

Supervisors, workers and coworkers should watch for signs of cold stress and allow workers to interrupt their work if they are extremely uncomfortable.

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Schedules should allow appropriate rest periods and ensure liquids are available.

Lastly be aware of winter weather hazards, like ice or falling snow, on the worksite and ensure that hazards are properly mitigated. For example, with icy surfaces, use caution when walking on slippery surfaces and be sure to wear appropriate footwear with good traction. Add sand or salt to the ice and if it remains slippery and in place, consider using appropriate signage to further inform employees as well as the public.

Check regularly to be sure winterizing is effective. Don’t be left out in the cold and risk injury by not knowing what to do in the chill of winter. Cold stress is a leading factor in injury for workers who need to be in frigid environments.

Syed Imtiaz is in charge of health and safety at Fer-Pal Infrastructure.