Protecting Workers in Cold Environments
Winter Weather: Keep your workers warm this winter using these cold weather safety tips.
Date Posted: 12/1/2008
The winter months can cause the harshest environment for workers in the pallet and forest products industry. Four environmental conditions that cause cold-related stress are low temperatures, high/cool winds, dampness and cold water. Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can result in health problems as serious as trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. Cold workers tend to be less focused and productive.
Major Risk Factors for Cold-Related Stresses
• Wearing inadequate or wet clothing increases the effects of cold on the body.
• Taking certain drugs or medications such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and medication that inhibits the body’s response to the cold or impairs judgment.
• Having a cold or certain diseases, such as diabetes, heart, vascular, and thyroid problems, may make a person more susceptible to the winter elements.
• Being a male increases a person’s risk to cold-related stresses.
• Becoming exhausted or immobilized, especially due to injury or entrapment, may speed up the effects of cold weather.
• Aging — the elderly are more vulnerable to the effects of harsh winter weather.
Preventing Cold-Related Disorders
Personal protective clothing is perhaps the most important step in fighting the elements. Providing adequate layers of insulation is the key.
Wear at least three layers of clothing: an outer layer to break the wind and allow some ventilation (like Gore-Tex® or nylon); a middle layer of wool or synthetic fabric (Qualofil or Pile) to absorb sweat and retain insulation in a damp environment, and an inner layer of cotton or synthetic weave to allow ventilation. Be aware that Down is a useful lightweight insulator; however, it is ineffective once it becomes wet.
Pay special attention to protecting feet, hands, face and head. Up to 40% of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed. Footgear should be insulated to protect against cold and dampness. Keep a change of clothing available in case work garments become wet.
The work environment can be altered to help reduce the risk of cold-related injuries. This includes the following:
• Use an on-site source of heat, such as air jets, radiant heaters, or contact warm plates.
• Shield work areas from drafty or windy conditions.
• Provide a heated shelter for employees who experience prolonged exposure to equivalent wind-chill temperatures of 20°F (-6°C) or less.
• Use thermal insulating material on equipment handles when temperatures drop below 30°F (-1°C).
• Reduce, as much as possible, the number of activities performed outdoors. When employees must brave the cold, select the warmest hours of the day and minimize activities that reduce circulation.
• Ensure that employees remain hydrated.
• Establish a buddy system for working outdoors. Educate employees to the symptoms of cold-related stresses — heavy shivering, uncomfortable coldness, severe fatigue, drowsiness, or euphoria.
The quiet symptoms of potentially deadly cold-related ailments often go undetected until the victim’s health is endangered. Knowing the facts on cold exposure and following a few simple guidelines can ensure that this winter season is a safe and healthy one.
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