How to Keep Outdoor Workers Safe This Winter

A guide by Swift360

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Tragically, the UK doesn’t share the same sunny climate as southern Spain, which means cold weather takes up a solid five months or so of the year. Because we have to deal with it so often, the dangers and need for suitable PPE for outdoor workers can’t be ignored.  In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about working in cold conditions and how to solve or minimise the risks involved. Let’s go!

Factors That Modify our Response to Cold

Deciding whether it’s safe or not to work outside on a cold day can’t be based solely on the temperature alone; wind speed and humidity should also come into consideration.  

In order to stay safe at work, these challenges should be counterbalanced by proper insulation (layering your PPE), physical activity and by controlled periods of exposure to the cold.

Air Temperature

Air temperature is the standard measure made by an ordinary thermometer in degrees Celsius (°C) or degrees Fahrenheit (°F).

Wind Speed

There are quite a few different types of anemometers on the market, which are used to measure wind speed or air movement. These are calibrated in metres per second (m/s), kilometres per hour (km/h) or miles per hour (mph). If this equipment is not available, the following can be used as an approximate guide:

  • 8 km/h (5 mph): light flag moves,
  • 16 km/h (10 mph): light flag fully extended,
  • 24 km/h (15 mph): raises newspaper sheet,
  • 32 km/h (20 mph): causes blowing and drifting snow.

Humidity

This is the concentration of water vapour present in air. In humid conditions, the water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than dry air!

Physical Activity

The production of body heat by physical activity (metabolic rate) is measured in kilocalories (kcal) per hour. One kilocalorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1°C. Although difficult to measure accurately, it emphasizes the need to be constantly on the move whilst working outside in cold weathers. Standing still for long periods of time will be detrimental to the workers’ health.

Work/Rest Schedule

When working in cold conditions, warm-up breaks are required every so often (environment/conditions dependent) and then normal breaks to be provided every two hours.

Winter Dangers

AND THE SUBSEQUENT ACTIONS TO TAKE

It’s important to take these factors into consideration and make educated decisions about cold weather working. 

This is because, unfortunately, there are a lot of associated hazards and dangers to contend with:

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can be produced, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Your body should pretty much remain consistently at around 37°C, anything below 35°C can be harmful.

​As mentioned above, the impact of the cold on an outdoor worker can be reduced by keeping the shifts short and remaining active.  However, if a job takes longer than intended, or work is interrupted, or there’s sudden rain, it won’t take long to feel the consequences.

In the case of developing hypothermia, the body tries to combat the loss of heat by shutting down blood flow to the skin, arms and legs, and increase internal heat production by shivering.

Severe cases of hypothermia can be fatal, but even mild hypothermia will have a negative impact on your ability to think clearly or move well. This, of course, greatly increases the risk of further accidents.

Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering or shaking
  • Lack of coordination
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Slurred speech

Emergency services should be called in cases of hypothermia.

However, there are a few immediate first aid tips to follow until assistance arrive:

  • Get the person indoors.
  • Remove any wet clothing and dry the person off if necessary.
  • Warm the person’s torso first, rather than the hands or feet as this can cause shock.
  • Warm the person by wrapping them in blankets or putting dry clothing on them.
  • Don’t immerse the person in warm water as rapid warming can cause heart arrhythmia.
  • Wrap any hot water bottles or chemical hot packs in cloth – don’t apply them directly to the skin.

TO AVOID: You should always wear layers of clothing that can be removed or added as temperatures change. Personal Protective Equipment, such as waterproof boots, gloves and outer layers are also a must in winter months. You can read more about layering down below!


Frostbite

Frostbite is injury to the skin and body tissues caused by exposure to cold conditions, typically affecting the extremities of the body – i.e. nose, fingers, or toes.​  The colder it is the quicker frostbite will set in.

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • Numbness
  • Reddened skin with grey or white patches
  • Areas becoming firm to touch
  • In severe cases, blisters or swelling

Medical care should be sought as soon as possible in cases of frostbite.

In the meantime, while waiting for help, here’s some simple first aid that can be carried out:

  • Keep the affected body part elevated to reduce swelling.
  • Move the person to a warm area to prevent further heat loss.
  • Remove all wet clothing and apply a dry, sterile bandage to the affected area or place cotton between any involved fingers or toes.

TO AVOID: Similarly to hypothermia, layer up and stay dry!


Slips and Trips

This one applies not just to outdoor workers, but to anyone who has to walk from one place to another when there’s snow or ice around. Walkways, parking lots and working surfaces can become an ice rink in winter months.

Possible consequences of taking a fall include:

  • Bruising
  • Head wounds
  • Broken bones
  • Injured backs

Any workplace should make an concerted effort to stop ice build-up on any surfaces which might be walked or worked on. 

TO AVOID SLIPS, TRIPS & FALLS: 

  • Remove water, snow or ice on floor and walkways immediately.
  • Highlight hazardous areas with temporary signs, barricades or cones.
  • Avoid carrying heavy loads that might compromise your balance.
  • Wear suitable footwear that has heavy treads for better traction and grip.
  • If you must walk on icy patches, remember to walk slowly with small steps, keeping your feet flat on the ground and arms at your side for balance.
  • Exit the ice as soon as you can. If you’re exiting a vehicle, get out by placing both feet on the ground. Trying to get out just one foot at a time could lead to a slip and fall.

POOR VISIBILITY

With winter comes reduced daylight hours and the increased likelihood of dark, wet, windy, and potentially foggy weather conditions.  This is the recipe for poor visibility and unfortunately increases the risk of outdoor workers being hit by moving vehicles or equipment.

Fortunately, visibility of the individual can be drastically improved with the use of high-visibility clothing. 

Given away by the name, high visibility garments are designed to increase visibility, whether it be in daylight, low-light or night-time environments. The best hi-vis products combine fluorescent material with bands or strips of a reflective material sewn on.  The two materials react differently to sunlight and artificial light respectively, creating maximum visibility.

TO AVOID ACCIDENTS IN POOR VISIBILITY: Full body high-visibility clothing is recommended in winter months so drivers of approaching vehicles can see the wearer more easily.

In high risk places, you may want to consider fully maximising the visibility of outdoor workers.  JSP sell helmets EVO2 and EVO3 that are compatible with a visilite helmet light and reflective stickers.  

Additionally, suitable signs and traffic management procedures to highlight obstacles and prevent accidents are highly advised in the dark winter months. 

*Remember to keep your eyes peeled for the CE kite mark and certification to EN ISO 20471 when purchasing high-visibility gear.*

Hazard Protection: Hi-Vis Clothing

Keeping Your Workers Safe In Low Visibility EnvironmentsVIEW OUR FULL RANGE HERE!

Snow Removal Injuries

One of the previous risks/dangers were slips and trips.  Unfortunately, even the very act of removing the snow and ice is common cause of injuries during cold weather.

Snow removal injuries include:

  • Overexertion which causes injury to muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues.  Most commonly in the lower back.
  • According to the stats, being hit with the shovel was up there with the most regular!
  • Cuts and broken bones, usually on the arms and hands.
  • Worst case scenarios include heart-related problems, sometimes heart attacks.

When shovelling snow, here are the precautions to take:

  • Stretch beforehand.
  • Use a small, lightweight shovel with a curved handle designed to take the strain off the back.
  • Start slowly and pace yourself. Don’t try to lift too much at once and push the snow instead of lifting where possible.
  • Stand with your feet slightly apart and bend your knees when lifting.

Trench Foot

This is a painful condition which develops when the feet sustain long exposure to cold, damp conditions (such a mud or water in winter).

Symptoms of trench foot include:

  • Reddened skin
  • Numbness
  • Swelling
  • Leg cramps
  • Tingling pain
  • Blisters
  • Sub-dermal bleeding
  • Gangrene

If you or a colleague show signs of trench foot, you should seek medical help.

These quick initial first aid actions should also help:

  • Remove any wet footwear and socks.
  • Dry the feet and avoid walking as much as possible.
  • Avoid water and the cold for as long as you need to until the symptoms are gone.
  • To keep trench foot at bay, it’s vital your feet stay dry. This means PPE equipment such as waterproof footwear that’s high enough to prevent entry of water, snow or ice.

TO AVOID:  Keep warm and dry! Avoid working in water or mud where possible. If this isn’t an option wear waterproof boots that fit well (not too loose that the cold and wet gets in, not too tight that it restricts circulation), with thick wool socks underneath.  If it feels as if the damp and cold is getting to your feet still, replace the socks with dry ones and massage the feet to improve circulation.  

Dehydration

Not necessarily associated with winter, but its’s actually a major problem.  This is because during cold weather, the body’s thirst sensation is reduced by around 40% and the brain doesn’t signal the kidneys to retain water.

Someone with 3% dehydration has a delayed reaction time equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.08 (that’s the cap of the drink drive limit)!

As such, it is a particularly concern for workers in dangerous environments (e.g. using heavy machinery, power tools or working at height) as there is much greater chances of them making dangerous mistakes or not reacting intelligently in situations whilst being dehydrated.  

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • The lips and mouth feeling dry
  • Heart rate and breathing increasing
  • Developing a headache
  • Feeling fatigued irritated or depressed

Fortunately, the solution is very simple! Drink lots of water and warm liquids such as soup and tea.

Snow Blindness

When the sun finally comes out in the winter, it can unfortunately be a hazard as it has a tendency to glare off snow or very wet roads/surfaces.

This can both damage your eyes, and also be very dangerous if you’re driving as it can seriously reduce your ability to see the road ahead and plan for any changes in direction. 

Due to these risks, eye protection such as sunglasses are highly recommended during the winter months when there is snow. 

Personal Protective Equiptment

& The Art of Layering

It is not sufficient to wear the same Personal Protective Equipment in the winter that you’ve worn in the summer. It won’t be fit to protect against low temperatures and wind chill, which can cause huge drops in total body heat for outside workers in the winter. 

To combat this, you should be kitted out with protective workwear that has several layers to keep you warm and safe. This is called a layering system.

Experts recommend you should wear several (at least three) layers of loose-fitting clothing in extreme cold conditions. Tight clothing actually reduces blood circulation which will have negative impact of blood circulating to your extremities.

Each layer has a different purpose and helps protect you from the cold and wind. Read on to find our how you can stay safe and warm this winter.

So What’s Each Layer For?

1) Wicking Layer

  • Removes moisture from skin and transfers it to the next layer.
  • Reduces build-up of sweat, which can cool the body.
  • Most commonly includes synthetic or polypropylene materials (it is recommended to steer clear from cotton)!
  • Examples: Long johns, socks, thermal tops or trousers.

2) Light Insulating Layer

  • Covers the wicking layer.
  • Provides insulation even when wet.
  • Examples: Light fleece or thin wool sweater.

3) Heavy Insulating Layer

  • Retains body heat.
  • Examples: Heavier fleece or wool sweater.

Thermal Clothing: Fleeces

Swift360 Range Of Fleeces For Layers 2 & 3 VIEW HERE

4) Windproof/Waterproof Layer

  • Provides protection against wind, rain and snow.
  • Prevents overheating through ventilation, which allows moisture from sweat to pass through.
  • Examples: Coats or jackets

Head, Hands & Feet

Layering also applies to the head, hands and feet! In fact, as these are the extremities of the body, they are the first to be effected by the cold.  

Head Layers

Face masks or balaclavas can be layered underneath a hat or a helmet to help reduce heat loss and protect your face from frostbite.

Balaclava Hood

Available on Swift360 RetailVIEW HERE

Hand Layers

Most PPE suppliers should offer a range of cold weather safety gloves. These are usually thermal lined with water-resistant properties.  Look out for the EN511 standard as this will indicate which gloves are made to protect against cold.  

Or if your job role requires a fairly specific glove , there is the option to put a thermal liner underneath your standard glove, which allows you to continue to carry out your task as normal, whilst keeping the hands insulated and warm. 

​Feet Layers

Waterproof footwear is a must during the winter months. Additionally, they should incorporate insulating and thermal features to keep your feet warm in low temperatures.

Socks are also important! A two-layer sock system is recommended for most winter work. For example, you could wear a thin polypropylene sock with a wool sock over the top. This will allow moisture to be wicked away from your feet and the wool will stay warm even if wet.

If two socks aren’t for you, then a single pair of loose-fitting wool and/or synthetic material socks should work a treat. Just remember if your feet begin to feel cold or damp, replace your socks with dry ones, or find a better insulating option!

Preparing and Protecting Workers For Winter

Take Action!

In conclusion, working in winter conditions has a number of challenges. However, there are actions you can take to manage and reduce the risks to ensure safety of outdoor workers. 

Ways of protect yourself and colleagues from the risks of working in the cold include:

  • Implement controls to reduce the risks of exposure to the cold, such as radiant heaters.
  • Shield areas of work from the wind where practical and possible.
  • Schedule work according to weather conditions. And, if needs be, consider delaying the work until warmer times of the year.
  • Allow frequent breaks in warm, dry areas. In some cases, this may mean additional mobile facilities.
  • Keep a close eye on the physical condition of yourself and colleagues during their shift.
  • Ensure there are suitable signs and traffic management procedures in place for the dark winter months.
  • Provide and undertake training on topics such as basic first aid, symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite and suitable PPE and safe work practices for cold conditions.
  • Fuel your body to stay warm! In extremely cold conditions, it’s best to take in your calories steadily over the day. Six to eight snacks are better than two heavy meals.
  • Encourage drinking warm fluids such as soup and hot drinks, but avoid alcohol, and too much caffeine. These restrict blood vessels, impeding the body’s ability to heat itself.

Original article here: https://www.swift360.co.uk/a-guide-on-how-to-keep-outdoor-workers-safe-this-winter/ – Swift360

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Swift360 is a leading PPE and workwear suppliers, supplying workplace safety equipment to medium and large businesses.

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