Tips for Working in the Cold
Depending on workplace conditions, there can be all kinds of hazards present – and cold is one hazard that may fly under the radar until it starts causing problems. Cold-related injuries are usually reversible, but not always; in severe cases, cold exposure can be fatal. That’s why it pays to not only look out for the warning signs, but also to be aware of how to prevent cold-related injuries from happening in the first place.
Explore this Article
- Why Awareness is Important for Anyone Working in Cold Temperatures
- What are the Potential Dangers of Working in Cold Weather?
- Monitor Wind Chill
- Wear Multiple Layers
- Drink Warm Beverages
- Stay Dry
- Protect Vulnerable Areas
- Follow Working in Cold Environments Law
- An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
It’s easy to be complacent about something like a cold face or slightly numb fingers, but those could be precursors to something much more serious. Even though many people experience cold temperatures as part of everyday life, that’s quite a bit different from actually working in cold temperatures.
For example, say that someone working in a freezer warehouse forgot to put on insulated gloves at the beginning of their shift. It might take a while for the cold to do some damage, but that doesn’t if the worker doesn’t realize what’s happening. With certain circumstances and a lack of precaution, it’s just a matter of time before cold exposure turns a normal day on the job into a workplace incident that has to be addressed, reported, and recorded.
Although hypothermia is probably the worst on the list, there are several other conditions that can arise due to severe or prolonged cold exposure. They include:
- Trench foot – A condition that arises after exposure to both cold and wet conditions. It’s worth pointing out that the weather doesn’t exactly have to be icy to cause trench foot; if temperatures are below 10°C/50°F, you should take care to keep your feet warm and dry. Trench foot affects both muscle tissue and nerves, and its symptoms include numbness, itching, tingling, swelling, and possibly blisters. It isn’t permanent if caught early on, but it can progress to the point of permanent tissue damage.
- Chilblains – This is a mild, reversible injury that takes several hours of cold exposure to occur; you could get it on your hands, feet, or other extremities at temperatures as high as 16°C/60°F. It causes redness, blisters, inflammation, and pain that worsens upon contact with other surfaces. Once the affected area stops being exposed to lower temperatures, the condition should resolve by itself.
- Frostbite – An injury that can happen to any part of the body that’s exposed to severe cold. Frostbitten skin is actually frozen, which does typically result in some degree of permanent damage. Milder cases may produce long-term symptoms like sensitivity to cold, numbness, or pain, but serious cases of frostbite can result in tissue necrosis and more severe nerve damage.
- Hypothermia – As the only cold-related condition that can directly lead to fatality, hypothermia should be taken seriously. In the early stages, the symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, complaining about the cold, and decreased physical function. Later stages are characterized by mental confusion, slowed breathing, severely decreased physical function, the absence of shivering, and possibly death in extreme cases.
Given how gravely someone can be affected by even temporary cold-related conditions, it’s crucial to watch out for symptoms at all times. Or better yet, make sure they don’t happen in the first place by using the tips below.
Even temperatures that are only vaguely nippy can get pretty vicious once you take wind chill into account. As little as a 4 MPH breeze can have an impact, so monitoring is key to ensuring that the appropriate safety measures are being taken.
OSHA recommends a minimum of three layers of clothing for anyone who’s working in the cold. If getting wet is a possibility, choose materials like wool, silk, or synthetics that keep their insulating properties even if they aren’t dry.
Even though warming up from the outside may not be possible for most of the day, workers can still warm up from the inside. Beverages like tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or even just hot water can all be effective to help maintain your internal body temperature at an acceptable level.
Just like wind chill, significant moisture or humidity can also increase the effect of cold temperatures. This being the case, it’s extremely important to stay dry on chilly days. That could mean wearing waterproof boots while working in muddy conditions, or bringing along a poncho in case it rains.
If the temperatures are low enough, it can take as little as 30 minutes of exposure before frostbite sets in. As you might expect, the areas that are most vulnerable to frostbite are the ones that we tend to protect the least – the fingers, toes, cheeks, ears, and nose. You may not need to start bundling up as soon as the fall weather makes an appearance, but it’s still smart to be aware of just how quickly the extremities can be affected by severe cold.
Employees in Canada who are working in cold temperatures follow a specific schedule to ensure that they don’t spend too long exposed to the cold. Breaks are provided every two hours, but workers may get additional breaks if the wind velocity increases, or if the temperature drops. If temperatures drop below freezing, employers also have to provide heated shelters and restrooms where employees can warm up during breaks.
Whether there’s a slight nip in the air, or the temperatures are well below freezing, workers can still be vulnerable to cold-related injuries. However, being vulnerable doesn’t mean that something bad is bound to happen; it just means that greater care is needed to prevent unwanted outcomes. Not all workplace injuries are preventable, but cold-related ones generally are. And what’s the best way to prevent them? With a combination of awareness, training, and common sense.