As we experience our first false Spring, its critical to remember that Winter isn't quite over yet. While the weather and temperature mid-day may feel great, the beginning and end of your shift may still be in Winter conditions, with temperatures hovering around the freezing mark. If not dressed appropriately, these few hours at the start and finish of your shift can expose you and your workers to cold stress.
Cold stress is produced by a drop in skin temperature, which can eventually lead to a fall in internal body temperature. Cold stress can be generated by four factors: low temperatures, high or chilling winds, wetness, and cold water as all of these elements drain heat from the body. Cold stress is produced not only by freezing temperatures combined with inappropriate clothing, but it can also be caused by higher temperatures such as 50oC combined with rain and/or wind. Prolonged exposure to cold and/or freezing temperatures on the workplace can lead to major health issues like trench foot, frostbite, hypothermia, and Raynaud's Phenomenon. Exposure to extremely cold temperatures can be fatal in extreme circumstances.
It is critical to schedule labor activities ahead of time, especially in cold weather. Employers must give workers with adequate protective clothing and training on cold stress symptoms so that they are aware of how their bodies react to cold, which is a primary barrier against cold stress. When working in cold environments is unavoidable, workers should follow the following guidelines to protect themselves and others from cold stress:
Wear appropriate PPE – right clothing according to the weather conditions is the best defense against cold stress. Always wear several loose clothing layers as it provides better insulation in cold weather and make sure to protect your ears, face, hands, and feet too.
Limit your outdoor work activity on severe cold days and move to warm areas during breaks.
Heavy work must be scheduled during the day's warmest hours. Drink plenty of liquids, excluding coffee and alcohol, to stay hydrated, as it is easy to become dehydrated in cold weather.
Always work in teams in order to keep an eye on each other and look for signs of cold stress. Hypothermia victims may be oblivious to their symptoms.