Working in extreme cold can be a wake-up call for many first-time cold weather construction workers. There are many different ways that a worker in a cold environment is at risk, so taking precautions is the best way for most workers to remain safe and able to carry out their duties. Here are a few essential tips for working construction in the extreme cold.
Layer Your Clothing
You might feel tempted to bundle up in your favorite cotton hoodie, but consider layering your clothing with looser wool, silk, or synthetic fabrics. Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing, as overheating can still be a concern even in the winter. Wool, silk, and synthetic materials are ideal for their moisture-wicking capabilities in case they get wet. For those who are concerned about their clothing getting wet, be sure to bring an extra set of clothes just in case.
Protect Your Head, Hands, and Feet
The outer extremities of the body are usually the first to lose heat, so it is important to protect the head, hands, and feet. Invest in a well-insulated winter cap that is safe to wear under a hard hat, but still keeps your head—and preferably ears—warm. You may need to use your hands extensively throughout your construction job, so choose a pair of high-quality winter work gloves that provide padding and warmth as well as dexterity and the ability to grip. Feet should be protected with thick wool socks and a pair of sturdy, insulated, waterproof winter work boots.
Take Breaks in a Warm Area
Even with layered clothing and protection for the limbs, it is important to get out of the cold every once in a while. Employers should provide a warm area for workers to take a break and warm their bodies up. Workers who may not usually take advantage of break times should do so during the winter. This can help avoid the onset of cold stress conditions. It is important to also have relief workers for longer jobs so no one is out working in the cold for an excessive amount of time.
Drink Warm Liquids
Whether it is brought from home or provided by the employer, workers should have access to warm liquids such as soup and hot beverages. This helps to warm the inside of the body, speeding up the rewarming of the outside. Avoid cold drinks and those that contribute to dehydration such as carbonated beverages.
Know the Symptoms of Cold Stress
Recognize the symptoms of cold stress so that you can help any coworkers who seem to be having troubles. There are many different conditions that can develop from working in the extreme cold, and the temperatures don’t even have to be below freezing. Chilblains, frostbite, cold water immersion, trench foot, and hypothermia can all affect anyone who works for extended periods of time in the cold. Be on the lookout for uncontrollable shivering, discolored skin, bleeding, numbness, tingling, pain, fatigue, confusion, disorientation, loss of coordination, or even loss of consciousness. Workers should attend training for recognizing cold stress conditions if it is provided by the employer.
Your first priority when working construction in the cold should be the safety of you and your coworkers. Use these tips as a starting point to staying warm while working outdoors.