How to stay safe and healthy working outdoors in winter

Winter working

Ok, so the clocks have only just gone back but it’s worth preparing if you’re one of those hardy souls who has to endure working outdoors in winter. Throw in a subtle mixture of the correct precautions, a bit of common sense and the following tips from Safety Forward and we’ll see you right!

What are the risks of working outdoors in winter?

There are many of us that complain about the winter weather but as far as work goes it likely to be only the commute that affects us. For workers who spend a lot of their time outside, the risks are numerous; bronchitis, asthma, stiff joints and fatigue are just a few of the potential hazards. It doesn’t have to be the height of winter for things like this to kick in either, sudden drops in temperature after unseasonably warm weather can cause large number of issues.

  • Steps to take when working outdoors in winter
  • Make sure water supplies do not freeze
  • Ensure gas heaters have adequate ventilation
  • Make use of any drying rooms provided for wet clothing
  • Try to use hot water when washing hands etc.
  • If using power tools outside vibration can cause issues. Improve blood circulation by staying warm and dry, paying particular attention to clothing. Gloves should be worn along with waterproofs, hat and heating pads if available. Not smoking will also help to improve blood circulation and every opportunity should be taken to exercise and massage fingers during breaks.
  • Take regular breaks and use the time to regain warmth and rehydrate.
  • Consider if any tasks can actually be completed indoors

The effects of cold stress

More serious conditions can arise as a result of cold stress, caused by excessive exposure to cold temperatures.

Workers should be aware of situations where clothing becomes wet and is in contact with the skin or where there is regular involvement with frozen food. If skin starts to become numb you should immediately take a break and increase your body temperature. Workers should also look out for each other and take note of any signs of severe shivering, drowsiness, fatigue, skin turning blue and an unwillingness to accept assistance.

There’s no such thing as bad weather….just the wrong clothes

Choosing the correct clothing is not only the easiest way employees can combat wintery conditions but also the most effective.

  • Wear many layers – Layers can be removed or added as applicable. Layering clothing traps insulating air that will help to maintain warmth.
  • Choose wind resistant and waterproof clothing – Having a set of dry spare clothing is also a good idea.
  • Wear thermal base layers
  • Wool clothing or garments made from synthetics are best for insulation in lower temperatures
  • Wearing headgear is excellent for keeping warm but should compromise other areas of safety such as hearing
  • Gloves are essential especially in temperatures of less than 4 degrees centigrade for light work and -7 degrees centigrade for heavy work. Where a task requires bare hands these should be conducted in conjunction with warm air jets or plates readily available.

Operating machinery

Machinery and vehicles that are used in low temperatures should be fit for purpose and able to cope in cold conditions.

  • Keep windows on plant machinery and vehicles completely clean ensuring total available visibility
  • Where appropriate use a banksman or constant use of mirrors at least
  • All lights must be cleaned regularly to ensure maximum impact
  • Depots and garages should remain well lit and free from slip hazards

Lone working

Lone workers should be particularly protected in cold weather especially if required to work in remote locations. Robust procedures are imperative, with provisions made for communication, the ability to summon help and be located in case of an accident.

Be sensible and prepared when working outdoors in winter

Taking obvious and sensitive measures for working outdoors in winter is the first line of defence against the elements. Sudden changes in conditions can be more challenging in the winter than at any other time of year. It may also be that temperatures may not seem to be particularly dangerous but could still be harmful if working outside for a long period of time.

Remember to take breaks often and use this time to regain warmth and stay hydrated, giving your body every opportunity to cope with the cold.