With the weather getting increasingly colder and snow on the horizon, it's important to think about how your work may be affected. There are so many factors to be considered - what to wear, how to avoid slips, trips and falls when it gets icy and what to do if you or someone you know gets injured. Check out this article for tips on staying warm in winter weather and how to make sure your workplace is safe during the colder months.
For those of us working from home or in an office, the dropping temperature is usually easy to combat. Putting on a cosy jumper or turning the heating up keeps us comfortable during the workday. But for anyone working outside, it takes a little more than that to ensure everyone stays safe.
Cold stress is a big problem for outdoor workers in winter, but what is cold stress?
Cold stress - a general term to describe the injuries and illnesses that can occur from working in low temperatures, with high wind speed and wet (or even just damp) environments, for an extended period of time.
At its worst, it can cause injuries such as frostbite and illnesses like hypothermia. However, there are several ways of preventing cold stress from occurring.
Firstly, knowing the signs of cold stress is a must. Typically, cold stress will start out looking like a common cold, with symptoms such as:
From here, cold stress can develop into hypothermia or frostbite. As you can imagine, the main goal is to prevent this from happening and there are so many ways that you can do this. The symptoms of hypothermia and forstbite are also something you should be aware of, so that you can help keep yourself and your colleagues safe.
There are 3 types of hypothermia - mild, moderate and severe. As you might have guessed from the names, hypothermia becomes increasingly dangerous the longer it is left untreated. You can spot hypothermia by looking out for the following symptoms.
Grogginess, muddled thinking and abnormal behaviour
Violent shivering or no shivering at all
Slow, weak pulse
Slow, shallow breathing
Shivering has stopped
Weak, irregular pulse (or even no pulse)
Little or no breathing
Obviously, hypothermia can be a severe illness brought on by extreme, cold weather however, this weather can also cause injuries.
Frostbite is a serious injury and is defined as - a condition where the tissue below the skin freezes. It typically occurs on the hands, feet, nose and ears and yes, it is as nasty as it sounds. It can lead to multiple medical complications, so knowing the symptoms of it is key.
You need to look out for:
Skin turning numb, hard and pale.
Because of the severity of frostbite, there are not many symptoms to look out for which is why prevention is so important. That way, you don't risk frostbite at all. There are plenty of ways to stop frostbite and hypothermia from ever even occurring.
Preventing Hypothermia and Frostbite
Wearing warm clothes and layering correctly - underwear, thermals, socks, glove liners. Make sure your first layer of clothing won't trap sweat because this can ultimately make you colder. For your second layer (shirts, coats, gloves etc.), the clothes should not be skin tight but a little loose because this will help trap heat. Wool is ideal for your second layer.
Wear a head covering such as a hat. If you wear a hard hat for work, layer up underneath it with a snug beanie.
Take regular breaks in a warm space (this should be provided by your employer).
Make sure you have access to fluids, both hot and cold. Taking a flask of tea with you to work is a great idea and there should also be facilities where you can make a hot drink or meal.
Pace yourself during vigorous activity, so you don't sweat as much or burn through your energy.
Protect you hands and feet with layers and insulated shoes and gloves.
Wash your hands with warm water and dry them completely.
Doing what you can to prevent these illnesses and injuries is the best way to stay safe while working outside in winter. However, if they were to occur, it is important to know what to do.
First Aid for Hypothermia and Frostbite
Seek medical help from trained first aiders or doctors. You may even need to call 999.
Move to a warm, dry area.
Remove wet or tight clothing that might restrict blood flow.
Dress in warm, dry, loose clothing. Use a shock blanket if possible.
Handle the person in need gently, rough handling can cause damage to affected skin, irregular heartbeat and potentially death.
Only give hot fluids if patient is alert and showing no signs of confusion.
Gently put any frostbitten areas of skin into a warm water bath (41 degrees Celsius) and keep there for 25-40 minutes. DO NOT pour water directly onto affected area.
If feeling/normal colour returns to affected area, gently dry and wrap it.
Check victims airway, breathing and circulation. Proceed with CPR if necessary.
Even if the affected person appears lifeless, continue to treat them until help arrives - they may still be alive and you could still save them!
If you would like to learn more about first aid or even take a course then check out Rock and Road's First Aid at Work and Emergency First Aid at work courses. Click the button below to find out more!
So now you know what you can do to prevent hypothermia and frostbite and how to treat them if they do occur. But you should also be aware of what you're entitled to as an employee. Your workplace should offer accommodations for employees that work outside in winter. These can include:
Making sure any personal protective equipment issued is appropriate.
Providing facilities for warming up food and drink such as soup or tea and encouraging the consumption of these items.
Offer more frequent rest breaks in a warm area.
Consider delaying the work if it can be undertaken at a warmer time of year.
Educating workers on the symptoms and consequences of cold stress.
Employers also have a responsibility to ensure their workers are as safe as possible from slips, trips and falls due to the winter weather. They can do this in many ways.
Ensuring the workplace is adequately lit for workers to be able to see and avoid hazards that may be present on the ground. Good lighting is important for both the inside and outside work areas.
Ice, Frost and Snow
These are an increasing risk over the winter months and employers should have risk assessments prepared and a system in place to manage the hazards. They can do so by:
Identifying outdoor areas used by pedestrians that will most likely be affected by ice.
Monitoring temperatures so as to best predict when ice might be present.
Using warning cones to let workers know there is a hazard (remember to remove these once the hazard is gone otherwise they will eventually be ignored).
Put procedures in place to prevent ice such as gritting the walkway or using an arbour high enough for people to pass under.
Diverting pedestrians away from the affected area.
There are, of course, more hazards that could cause slips, trips and falls in the workplace and to find out more about these and how to prevent them, you can check out Anytime Training's course, helpfully named 'Slips, Trips and Falls'. This course will introduce you to the statistics surrounding, slips, trips and falls and also debunk some of the myths about these accidents. It contains real examples of where things have gone wrong and practical steps that could have been taken to avoid these situations. Use the button below to find out more!