With more than 450,000 global users in 17 countries, we understand not all projects are the same or require the same solutions. When one side of the world is focusing on heat safety, the other is ramping up for cold weather worker exposure. At Viewpoint, we ensure you’re always on top of what’s happening in your area.
With cold, winter weather upon us, it’s critical to keep workers comfortable and safe on the job. In recent years, upward of 42,000 workplace injuries were caused by snow, sleet, or ice. Prolonged exposure to cold and freezing temperatures on the job can result in frostbite, hypothermia, and even death. Cold stress is when the body cannot maintain a normal temperature. It occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature.
Much like when we talked about the importance of heat safety on the job, employers are responsible and required to protect workers from safety hazards, including cold temperatures and extreme weather. Cold weather-related illnesses and injuries can be prevented by following the guidelines below.
Consider wind chill
Wind chill, or wind chill factor, is the sensed decrease in air temperature felt by the body because of the flow of air. The National Weather Service calculates wind chill based on average adult measurements and wind speed. Knowing the wind chill temperature can help you gauge employees’ exposure risk.
Prevent and protect
In cold, wet, windy weather, safe work practices can make the difference between productivity and safety versus wasted time and delays.
- Have a reliable way to communicate with workers, especially those in remote areas, during storms and extreme weather to ensure all are accounted for in case of evacuation or schedule changes.
- Properly de-ice and inspect machinery and tools, as well as pathways and scaffolding. Falls are the number one cause of cold-weather injuries.
- Schedule jobs that expose workers to cold weather during the warmest part of the day.
- Limit time spent outdoors, and allow and encourage frequent breaks.
- Consider relief workers and shared tasks to limit exposure on demanding, outdoor jobs.
- Provide warm areas for breaks, outdoor heaters, warm drinks, and extra gloves, hats, and layers.
- Ensure all workers are equipped with warm gear, including base layers, jackets, gloves, hats, and insulated footwear. Encourage employees to keep an extra change of clothes in case of wet clothing.
- Enact a buddy system, assigning at least two workers together in cold, remote locations.
- Prepare for schedule flexibility.
Train your team to be aware of hypothermia and frostbite
All workers should be educated on what to look for in cold weather work environments in themselves and one another. Monitoring the physical conditions of workers is the first line of defense against cold-related illnesses.
Hypothermia results when someone is exposed to cold temperatures without protection for an extended period. Hypothermia isn’t limited to cold and freezing temperatures. It can result from windy conditions, exhaustion, and wet clothing. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech or mumbling, shallow breathing, clumsiness, low energy, confusion, and loss of consciousness.
Frostbite is when body tissues freeze. Different from frostnip, when there is a superficial nonfreezing cold injury due to blood vessel constriction, frostbite can lead to permanent tissue damage. It most commonly affects fingers, toes, the nose, cheeks, and ears. Frostbite symptoms include cold, prickly-feeling skin, numbness, hard or waxy-looking skin, and clumsiness.
Have an emergency plan
Knowing how to respond to cold stress situations can make a huge difference in helping a victim. Have emergency blankets and dry layers available. Report any symptoms to supervisors so proper steps can be followed and care administered. Even if someone says they’re “fine” or “just tired,” reiterate to employees that following an instinct to report or help someone who may be dealing with hypothermia can be a life or death decision.
All physical injuries, for example, from a slip or fall, should be attended to following company protocol. If a person cannot be moved to a warmer location, bring blankets and layers to the victim until help arrives.
With Viewpoint integrated construction software, you can stay in contact with all your teams and projects, easily following up on safety at the jobsite. To learn more, get in touch with us or connect via Facebook or Twitter.