In cold temperatures, workers face serious occupational health and safety hazards. Dropping temperatures can impede on manual dexterity, reduce vigilance and the capacity to take rational decisions. Whether the risk is frostbite to the body’s extremities or hypothermia, hazards can appear in many situations:
- Outside: during construction, transport, agriculture or public services works, for example.
- Inside: in refrigerated warehouses, meat packing facilities, slaughterhouses and other refrigerated or insufficiently heated locations.
In cold temperatures, heat loss can happen through sweat evaporation, by contact with water, a cold object or cold air, or even through radiation. A good way to reduce the risks is to wear the proper clothing when working in an environment where temperatures are equal or inferior to 4°C. Clothing must be selected according to the temperature, the level of activity and the tasks to be performed. Here are some key rules to follow and that should be communicated to your workers to help them spend a comfortable and, above all, safe winter.
- Multiple layers provide superior protection compared to a single thick layer. Also, the internal lining must be insulated and wick away humidity from the skin to keep it dry.
- The clothing must be easy to open and remove, in order for a worker to control his body temperature as he sees fit.
- Clothing must be kept clean as dirt can fill the air cells contained in the fiber, and negate its insulation capacity.
- Under the hard hat, the head is covered with a cap to prevent excessive heat loss.
- If fine motor skills are not required, the worker must wear gloves, or even better, mitts. Know that wool and synthetic fibers retain heat, even when wet.
- As for feet, leather boots with rubber outsoles, felt lining and outsoles are the best choice for heavy work in cold environments as leather is porous, allowing the boots to “breathe”.
- Polypropylene socks help keep feet dry and warm by wicking away sweat from the skin. A good tip is to have several pairs of socks handy in order to change them during the day.
- In extremely cold conditions, it is preferable to separate eye protection from the nose and mouth to avoid the fogging or frosting of glasses due to the humidity contained in the exhaled air.
Whether they are technical or administrative, many other preventive measures applicable to cold constraint situations can also be taken to improve the workers’ quality of life. The best solution remains training and information about the risks and emergency measures for this kind of condition.