Cold Weather? The effects and how to keep safe with PPE

Keeping your workforce safe through the cold and wet of winter means making sure your people have the right protective equipment to stay warm and protected. People often assume that the effects of cold weather can only be felt in harsh conditions such as snow storms or negative-degree weather. In reality – even milder weather can affect outdoor worker safety.

Here are 3 potential Health Issues and tips on how to prevent them happening to your workforce this winter:

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is when the body loses heat faster than it’s produced, resulting in very low body temperatures.  Early symptoms can be: shivering, loss of concentration, loss of coordination, confusion and severe fatigue.

Frostbite

Frostbite is caused by freezing and can occur when the wind chill is high, causing the environment to feel colder than it is.  Normally it will affect the face as well as extremities like toes and fingers.  Symptoms include numbness and stinging or aching in the affected area.

Chilblains

Repeated skin exposure to cold temperatures can cause damage to blood vessels and result in temporary or permanent redness and itching. Watch for signs of inflammation and itchiness.

There are many easy ways to stay protected in the cold and wet weather, here are a few:

  1. Headwear. Always wear thermal head gear, this protects from heat loss through the head. If workers wear hard hats then they’ll need a thermal helmet liner. It may be better to even wear a balaclava to protect the face as well, otherwise a scarf can do this.
  2. Footwear. Thermal, waterproof safety footwear is essential for workers who are working outside for extended periods of time. Black ice is a common problem in the winter, so consider providing your workers with attachments to add traction on ice. Go slightly large on the sizing so they can wear thicker socks as needed, or multiple pairs of socks. Spare socks are a good idea, especially if it is very damp.
  3. Gloves. Insulated gloves may interfere with dexterity, but should be worn as much as possible when the temperatures approach or dip below freezing. Thinner task gloves should be worn when needed for dexterity, but consider carrying a second pair of thick gloves or mittens to pull on during breaks. If gloves aren’t waterproof, they’ll soak up water and cause damage to the hand, make sure workers have enough pairs to keep protected throughout the day.
  4. Layers. Several thin layers are better than one or two heavy ones. Wool makes a good middle layer. Obviously, movement should not be hampered, but layers are warmer – and layers can be taken off if effort raises body heat to avoid overheating. Additionally, layers can be cheaper because you can layer summer items rather than buying heavy coats. The outer layer should be waterproof – Britain gets more freezing rain in winter than snow. Avoid cotton, which tends to get damp. The innermost layer should be of a fabric which wicks sweat away from the skin. Layers are also important for warehouse workers who may be going in and out of a building.
  5. Visibility. When it gets dark before the end of the work day it is very important for workers who go outside to wear hi-vis vests, trousers, jackets, etc. These can be layered over warm winter clothing, but make sure workers know that if they remove a layer the hi-vis gear must go back on the top. Have strict policies to ensure it is worn at all times.

When it comes to cold weather safety, it’s crucial to take all the necessary precautions and not to underestimate the effects of cold weather.  Most cold-related injuries occur when workers are unprepared and don’t have the proper equipment to provide adequate protection.  If employees are working outside, it’s best to have additional layering available and to identify a place to take shelter nearby just in case it’s needed.

Something else to consider is the needs of individual workers. People are different and therefore have different needs and wants. Talk to your workers about what they find works, as it may vary by task. For example, some workers may prefer a single heavy coat because bulky layers can get too close to the machinery they are using. Gloves are also an area of concern – make sure employees get gloves that don’t interfere with their ability to perform their job, and the best way to do so is to talk to them. Being flexible and understanding your employees needs and preferences will help everyone stay warm and comfortable – and productive – through the winter.

Whether you are seeking expert advice, or excellent PPE for your business, contact iSB Group and our experienced team will be happy to assist.