Safety precautions for cold weather work: More than just clothes
“There is no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing.” ~Norwegian Proverb
While wearing proper (clean, dry and insulated) clothing is crucial for working outdoors in cold weather, it’s not the only precaution you need to take. There are many less obvious preventative measures you should take to ensure a safe work site in cold weather.
Bulky clothing tends to limit one’s mobility, causing falls and other accidents. Be aware of your surroundings and adjust your work style according to your extra clothing.
Dehydration is often overlooked; the importance of wearing protective clothing is always encouraged, but many forget the importance of drinking water. Wearing multiple layers of clothing causes workers to sweat, even in the cold temperatures. Pumping extra fluids is necessary, but also make sure they’re the right ones. Coffee may look like the best option – warm with a boost – but caffeine is a diuretic. Drink water, and lots of it.
Speaking of caffeine – other beverages, such as soda and energy drinks, shouldn’t be consumed in excess while working in cold weather. While tired employees run a greater risk of getting injured on the job site, these drinks make you jittery and cause you to crash once the caffeine wears off.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers advice to employers and employees on taking necessary precautions to prevent and treat cold-related health problems:
- Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous.
- Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do to help employees.
- Encourage employees to wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
- Be sure that employees in extremely cold conditions take frequent, short breaks in warm and dry shelters to allow their bodies to warm up.
- Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
- Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
- Use the buddy system: work in pairs so that one employee can recognize danger signs.
- Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes.
- Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate).