7 Things You Must Do To Protect Your Workers From the Bitter Cold
As most of the country is experiencing the coldest weather of the year, and in some places in decades, you don't have to be outside for very long to be reminded why mother nature is such a force to be reckoned with. While
you may be indoors ejoying all the comforts of a warm room, there are countless workers forced to work outside.
If you dare venture outside, pehaps you will see first responders, utility or construction workers, amongst many other hard working, dedicated employees forced to toil away in the harshest of conditions. When working in these conditions for an extended period of time, cold stress is a common side-effect.
When is cold a factor?
Cold stress may result when the body is unable to warm itself. Four factors contribute to cold stress: cold air temperatures, high velocity air movement, dampness of the air, and contact with cold water or surfaces. A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Cold air, water, and snow all draw heat from the body. Wind chill is the combination of air temperature and wind speed. While below freezing conditions combined with inadequate clothing could bring about cold stress, it can also be brought about by temperatures in the 50's coupled with some rain and wind.
The most common cold induced problems are Hypothermia, Frostbite and Trench Foot. All of these conditions can be avoided by taking the proper precautions and having an awareness of the symptoms that introduce these conditions.
Planning is key. Workers should plan ahead to work in cold weather. Wearing appropriate clothing and being aware of how your body is reacting to the cold are important to preventing cold stress. Additionally, one must avoid alcohol, certain medications and smoking to minimize the risk.
The most important way to avoid cold stress is with protective clothing. When choosing the correct clothing, the type of fabric makes a difference. Cotton loses insulation when it becomes wet. Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet.
The following are recommendations by OSHA for working in cold environments:
Wear at least three layers of clothing. An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic to wick moisture away from the body. A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet. An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
Wear a hat or hood. Up to 40% of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed.Wear insulated boots or other footwear.
Keep a change of dry clothing available in case work clothes become wet.
With the exception of the wicking layer, do not wear tight clothing. Loose clothing allows better ventilation of heat away from the body.
Do not underestimate the wetting effects of perspiration. Oftentimes wicking and venting of the body's sweat and heat are more important than protecting from rain or snow.
Since it's easy to become dehydrated in cold weather, it's recommended by OSHA to drink plenty of liquids, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Schedule heavy work, if possible, during the warmer parts of the day. Take breaks out of the cold. Try to work in pairs to keep an eye on each other and watch for signs of cold stress. Avoid fatigue since energy is needed to keep muscles warm. Take frequent breaks and consume warm, high calorie food such as pasta to maintain energy reserves.
Supervisors, workers and coworkers should watch for signs of cold stress and allow workers to interrupt their work if they are extremely uncomfortable. Supervisors should also ensure that work schedules allow appropriate rest periods and ensure liquids are available. They should use appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress.
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