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Staying safe in cold working conditions - Tips for Workers & Companies

Even though it may not quite seem so yet, Winter is certainly on the way and now is the time to get prepared.

It is not uncommon for construction workers to be outdoors for up to twelve hours per day, so it’s imperative to take steps to keep safe and warm. Of course, cold weather is not just limited to construction, other industries can be adversely affected also. In manufacturing, for instance, cold weather can harm machinery and significantly reduce productivity. Cold weather also affects practically all companies who use roads as a way to deliver goods and materials. Bad weather such as fog, ice and snow can cause mayhem by negatively impacting both the performance of vehicles as well as the safety of the roads and ability of drivers.

According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), contractors who are exposed to extreme weather conditions, such as freezing temperatures, may be at risk of "cold stress". The institute classifies these conditions as dangerous situations that can “bring on health emergencies in susceptible people,” such as those without shelter and workers who may be exposed to the cold for long periods of time without the appropriate protection. According to NIOSH, the condition can vary depending on what part of the country you live in with regions “relatively unaccustomed to winter weather” especially prone to this kind of weather. According to NIOSH, cold stress has the potential to affect workers safety in a number of ways including through cold-related illness commonly associated with working in cold conditions for long periods. These risks include Hypothermia, immersion hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. According to OSHA (the Occupational Safety & Health Administration), prolonged periods in cold, wet and icy conditions could lead to any of the above conditions developing, jeopardizing ones safety. In extreme cases, OSHA says, exposure can lead to death. The danger signs include “uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior.” A number of contributing factors may result in increased risk of cold-related illnesses and injuries including dressing improperly, poor physical conditioning and wetness / dampness. Additionally, physical risks, such as falls, slips and trips become higher risks in inclement weather.

The good news is, cold-related accidents and illnesses are oftentimes preventable and just require some preparation in order to ensure safety. According to OSHA, outdoor work requires proper preparation, especially when you’re dealing with severe winter conditions quite common here on the East Coast. Therefore, OSHA states that employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a place of work that is free from hazards, including those caused by harsh winter weather. Preparation starts by providing a number of things including the following.

OSHA recommends companies should train their workers in:

  • How to recognize the symptoms of cold stress
  • How to prevent cold stress and injuries
  • The “importance of self-monitoring and monitoring” co-workers
  • How to provide first aid
  • What type of clothing is appropriate to wear
  • Monitoring weather conditions and reporting back to management

Workers also need to know or learn about related hazards, like slippery roads and surfaces, windy conditions, and damaged power lines etc. The implementation of safe work practices is another major component in the preparation process. OSHA believes the implementation of the following can help reduce any risk to workers safety.

  • Always use proper tools
  • Develop work plans to prevent hazards during the harsh winter months
  • Schedule maintenance and repairs for the summer months
  • Provide “warm areas” for teams during cold projects
  • Monitor workers/coworkers who are at risk of cold stress
  • Establish a way to stay up to date on weather conditions

While being exposed to harsh conditions, workers are encouraged to:

  • Wear at least three layers of clothing “layering provides better insulation”
  • Wear a knit mask to cover face & mouth
  • Wear a hat that will cover your ears and can heat your whole body
  • Wear an insulated coat or jacket and insulated gloves
  • Wear foot protection that keeps you warm and is waterproof

At Harris we take the health and well-being of all associates and partners very seriously and train all associates regularly. We also sell safety gear in our branches and have seasonal specials for you and your team. Ask you local Harris crew about concrete covers, ice melt, blankets, shovels, flood prevention equipment etc. Our Fall/Winter Flyer includes a storm preparedness check list as well as various products to keep you warm, dry and going!

A construction worker unloads rebar during a winter snowstorm Feb. 3, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (Matt Rourke/AP) A construction worker unloads rebar during a winter snowstorm in Brooklyn, NY (credit: Matt Rourke/AP)

(parts of this article have originally been published here:



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