Managing the safety of outdoor workers during freezing winter months is critical. In this blog post, we'll take a look at the main safety concerns in cold weather and ways to reduce the risks, including winter PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Slips & Trips
The latest HSE (Health and Safety Executive) statistics reveal that slips, trips and falls made up 29% of all non-fatal workplace injuries to employees during 2016/17. Such accidents are more often reported during the autumn and winter months. This is due to wet weather creating muddy, debris-covered conditions and uneven ground surfaces. Additionally, rain, snow, ice, falling leaves and reduced daylight hours all increase the chance of slips and trips.
To help combat risks, outdoor workers should use safety footwear with increased slip-resistant features. Enhanced flexibility, durability and even self-cleaning tread designs can also help.
You can find out more from the HSE about selecting slip-resistant footwear.
Managing Winter Risks
For outdoor workers, the impact of the cold reduces by moving and remaining active. However, if a job takes longer than anticipated, or work is interrupted, or the weather worsens and they become wet, it won't take long for them to feel the consequences. In such cases, individuals can suffer from hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature) which has a negative impact on a victim's ability to think clearly or move well. This, of course, greatly increases the risk of accidents.
Frostbite (the freezing of skin and underlying tissue) is also a risk and can occur in cold temperatures at any level. However, the colder it is, the quicker frostbite will set in. Symptoms of frostbite usually affect the hands and feet and include numbness, reddened skin with grey or white patches, areas becoming firm to the touch and, in severe cases, blisters.
For these reasons, safety managers should plan for the unknown and ensure appropriate workwear and PPE is identified and provided to employees.
Clothing that only protects against low temperatures will not be adequate in windy conditions. This is due to the danger of wind chill, which can quickly cause huge drops in total body heat on cold, windy days. For example, if the air is calm and the temperature is 2°C, the body will feel cool. However, add a 40km/h wind and the situation becomes very dangerous, with the wind resulting in bitter coldness and workers rapidly losing body heat.
To combat this, workers should be kitted out with workwear that has several layers:
- Wicking Layer
- Removes moisture from skin and transfers it to the next layer
- Reduces build-up of sweat, which can cool the body
- Most commonly includes synthetic or polypropylene materials (it is recommended to steer clear from cotton!)
- Light Insulating Layer
- Goes over the wicking layer
- Provides insulation even when wet
- Heavy Insulating Layer
- Retains body heat
- Examples include wool sweaters and heavier fleece
- Windproof/Waterproof Layer
- Provides protection against wind, rain and snow
- Prevents overheating through ventilation, which allows moisture from sweat to pass through
Layering should also be applied to head, hands and feet. Most PPE manufacturers and suppliers offer a number of winter PPE options. A few examples include thermal lined or waterproof safety gloves, and face masks or balaclavas to layer under hard hats. Here at Swift360 we provide a huge range of winter PPE products, so please get in touch to find out more.
It is incredibly important that vision is not impaired as this can vastly increase the risk of accidents. Workers should be provided with hoods which not only keep the head dry and warm but protect the face and eyes against cold, wintry conditions.
Not only this, but glare off snow can cause snow blindness (otherwise known as photokeratitis) which occurs when UV rays burn the cornea. To prevent this, workers should be provided with adequate eye protection to protect from debris, wind and UV rays.
Weather conditions can rapidly deteriorate during winter, including sudden heavy rainfall, strong winds and snowfall. In addition to this, daylight hours are vastly reduced which makes spotting workers, colleagues and, in some cases, members of the public, very difficult.
Due to these factors, high-visibility clothing with reflective tapes and materials are a critical part of every worker's winter PPE. This is to ensure maximum visibility in poor conditions.
In addition to supplying workers with suitable winter PPE, there are various other ways in which employers can help protect workers from the risks of working in the cold:
- Implement controls to reduce the risks of exposure to the cold, such as radiant heaters
- Shield areas of work from the wind where practical and possible
- Schedule work according to weather conditions
- Allow workers to take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas
- Keep a close eye on the physical condition of workers during their shift
- Provide training on topics such as:
- Basic first aid
- Symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite
- Suitable PPE and safe work practices for cold conditions
Working in winter conditions provides a specific and large set of challenges. However, the risks can be managed with comprehensive training and suitable cold weather PPE.
Swift360 has long-standing experience in helping businesses of varying sizes keep their workers warm in the cold winter months. To find out about products we can provide, or to seek advice, please don't hesitate to contact us today.