For our community, job sites sometimes come with the challenge of frigid temperatures, snowy conditions or chilling wind. When everyone else is staying cozy inside, trade professionals are saying “game on.”
Embracing the elements is just part of our way of life whether it’s on the job site or while we play, but it would be remiss to ignore the risks that comes with that and the precautions we should be taking.
We’ve rounded up 5 tips and tricks to stay safe and in the flow.
1. Know the Signs, Find a Buddy
Workers exposed to extreme cold may be at risk of hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot -- all illnesses that can sneak up on you when temperatures drop that can lead to serious health problems. It’s imperative to know the signs and know how to respond if you encounter them. Following the “buddy system” is an easy way to ensure that someone is there to keep you safe and the best defense is common sense.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shares the following information to help:
A victim of hypothermia, a condition in which the body uses up its stored energy and can no longer produce heat, may exhibit shivering, confusion and blue skin. If you suspect your “buddy” or co-worker is suffering from hypothermia:
- Request immediate medical assistance.
- Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.
- Remove wet clothing.
- If conscious, warm beverages may help increase the body temperature.
- Once the victim’s temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
If you have frostbite, indicated by tingling or stinging hands; numbness; or bluish or pale, waxy skin:
- Get into a warm room as soon as possible. Do not use a heating pad, fireplace or radiator for warming because you will not be able to feel sensation and can potentially make it worse.
- Unless necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes.
- Immerse the affected area in warm, not hot, water. If the skin is numb, you may not be able to feel if the water is too hot and it could cause further damage.
- Do not massage the frostbitten area – this may cause more damage.
EHS dives even deeper here into warning signs of cold-weather illnesses and how to make sure that even in the worst scenarios, you’re equipped with the information you need to save a life.
2. Stay well nourished
Balanced meals and adequate fluid intake are essential to maintain body heat and prevent dehydration. If you have a day ahead on a winter jobsite, eat well and often. Working in the cold requires more energy than in warm weather, so eating enough food during the day is crucial -- especially fats and carbohydrates as your body can use those nutrients as fuel to stay warm.
Drink fluids as much as possible, too. Dehydration happens faster in cold weather conditions which can cause headaches, dizziness and fatigue, preventing you from staying alert, a quality you can’t quite literally can’t live without on a jobsite.
Warm teas and soup kept in a thermos are a welcomed comfort that serve the dual purpose of not only making you feel warm, but actually warming you up internally. Steer clear of caffeinated drinks such as coffee because it can increase urine production and contribute to dehydration. Plus, it increases the blood flow at the skin surface increasing the loss of body heat.
3. Sleep is key
Staying alert - and not relying on caffeine - doesn’t just stem from staying hydrated and well-fed, sleep is a major contributing factor to keeping your brain functioning at its best. Working outdoors is challenging and there are always risks, it should come as no surprise that when conditions are a little more dangerous than usual, a good night’s sleep is essential. Most in our community can’t Zoom into the job, so keeping your brain sharp when you’re working outside is critical - no matter the season.
4. Adopt safe work practices and plan breaks
Reduce exposure to cold by installing on-site heating devices, if possible, and putting thermal insulating covers on equipment handles when temperatures are below 30 degrees. Additionally, include planned periods of time during the day to give everyone’s body a break from the cold. For the newer guys, make sure you ease into working cold conditions before working at full capacity. We all know the young guy who thinks he’s indestructible, best not to learn the hard way.
Remember, work at your own pace, everyone’s body is different in the cold conditions and you know your body best.
5. How you dress is your defense
Protective clothing is a simple way to defend against the winter cold. Damp clothing is the devil in cold temperatures as it can quickly drop your body temperature, so it is imperative to stay dry. Look for clothes made from synthetic materials which are naturally hydrophobic (they don’t absorb water), even the best coatings on cotton and canvas will eventually erode allowing the fabric underneath to absorb water.
Finally, it requires more effort and drains your energy if you’re wearing bulky clothes, too, so finding a flexible performance system helps you work longer and harder. We recommend wearing a 3-layer system that works together to wick sweat away as you work, keep you warm and prevent everything underneath from getting wet:
- Next-to-skin layer should be made of a synthetic material that wicks moisture away from your body like the Men's EDO Tee or T.5 WerkHoody (this long sleeve sun hoody is also great in the summer on its own) and both are available in our recently launched women’s fit here.
- The second layer’s primary purpose is to keep you warm, so the fabric should be insulating like fleece. Our lineup of pullovers/hoodies are ideal because they eliminate bulk making it possible to move freely without expending extra energy. The T2 Half Zip WerkFleece, T2 Fleece WerkHoody or, the T2 Fleece Fleece Pullover Hoody are all great options. We’re still working on getting a mid-layer perfected in women’s fit.
- Your final layer is worn on top and should defend from the elements like wind and rain. You can count on the Women's T3 WerkHoody, Men's T3 WerkHoody, T3 WerkJacket or in extreme conditions, the T4 WerkJacket as high performing top layers.
Safety Line says that special care should be taken to properly cover the head (where 40 percent of body heat can be lost), as well as the feet, hands and face, which are most prone to frostbite, so make sure your foot and hand gear is up to the challenge.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the signs of cold weather illnesses and what to do if you or someone on the job site experiences one, planned ahead so you can stay well-rested and well-nourished, implemented safe work practices and invested in the key tool of a layering system -- we hope you’ll be set to take on the winter season with ease.
To encourage you to fill the gaps in your 3-layer system for working outdoors in the winter, we’re running a 15% off discount site-wide the entire month of January. Just a little something to kick 2021 off right. Use code WERK15.
Questions? Ideas for our next blog post? Let us know in the comments