Safety Tips for Working Outside in the Cold
Winter is coming, and that means job sites across the U.S. will be getting colder, windier, and wetter. Anyone working in the cold—even the hardiest concrete construction warriors—could be at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, or worse.
Safety comes first. When working outdoors this winter, be aware of these common types of cold stress:
- Hypothermia happens when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to 95°F or less.
- Mild symptoms begin when the person is alert but shivering.
- Moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia may include: when shivering stops; confusion; slurred speech; heart rate/breathing slow; loss of consciousness; death.
- Frostbite occurs if body tissues freeze, such as hands or feet. Frostbite can occur at temperatures above freezing, due to wind chill, and may result in amputation.
- Symptoms include numbness, or reddened skin that develops gray/white patches, feels firm/hard, and may blister.
- Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is a non-freezing injury to the foot, caused by lengthy exposure to wet and cold environment.
- Trench foot can occur at air temperatures as high as 60°F, if feet are constantly wet.
- Symptoms include redness, swelling, numbness, and blisters.
Risk and prevention
You could be at increased risk of cold stress if you:
- Aren’t dressed properly for winter weather
- Continue working in wet clothing or skin
- Experience exhaustion on the job site
Ready to protect yourself and your co-workers from cold stress? You’re already taking the first step by reading this article. You know the symptoms, so you can monitor yourself and others.
Other preventative measures you can take:
- Dress properly: Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing. Also, wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer. Protect your hands with insulated gloves (water resistant if necessary), and wear insulated and waterproof boots.
- Drink warm, sweetened fluids (no alcohol)
What to do when a co-worker suffers from cold stress
If a co-worker appears to be suffering from hypothermia, call 911 immediately in an emergency. To prevent further heat loss, move the person to a warm place. Get a change of dry clothes, and cover their body (including head and neck, but not their face) with blankets and something to block the cold, such as a tarp or garbage bag.
For frostbite, follow the same recommendations as hypothermia. In addition, do not rub the frostbitten area. The person should avoid walking on frostbitten feet. Do not apply snow or water, and do not break blisters. Loosely cover and protect the area from contact. Don’t try to rewarm the area unless directed by medical personnel.
In the case of trench foot, remove wet shoes/socks; air dry (in warm area); keep affected feet elevated and avoid walking. Seek medical attention.