Working in Winter
Anyone who works outside in harsh conditions knows the chilly season takes its toll. And with temperatures outside dropping, it’s time to think about protecting yourself and your workers from the elements. So how can you and your business prepare for winter? We've put together some tips to help you and your crew stay safe.
The effects of the cold can range from the increased risk of injury, reduced work rate and quality and greater potential for damage to plant and equipment. The cold can affect the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. Working in cold temperatures can also increase irritability and frustration, and may even incline people to take shortcuts to finish faster.
Even moderately cold temperatures can increase the likelihood of workplace incidents. This is because the body’s response to cold causes a decrease in manual dexterity, fingertip sensitivity and muscle strength decrease. The degree of coldness can be underestimated if other factors such as wind chill are not considered.
People working outside jobs should try and eliminate, or at best isolate, cold hazards. However, completely eliminating hazards can become difficult; so consider the following controls when working in the cold:
Food, Shelter & Wellbeing
Food and liquid intake are essential to maintain body heat and prevent dehydration. More energy is exerted when working in cold conditions as the body is working hard to keep warm.
WorkSafe states that if continuous work is carried out in temperatures below 0°C, heated shelters such as cabins or ‘smoko’ rooms should be made available. A strict timetable for breaks should be allowed to let employees warm up and change clothes if needed.
Workers and supervisors should be trained to recognise the symptoms of cold exposure such as hypothermia. Having a trained first aid person is highly recommended. Employees should be informed about PPE, safe work practices, and emergency procedures in case of injury. While working in the cold, a buddy system should be used to look out for one another.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Clothing should be worn in multiple polypropylene, polyester or merino layers: the air between the layers of clothing provides better insulation. The outer layer should be hi-vis, rain and wind-proof, and allow for easy opening and removal.
Exposed areas, such as the head, hands and feet, are just as important as the body. Gloves are an obvious option; however these can become bulky and affect a worker’s manual handling, so instead provide warm air blowers or insulated handles on tools.
Buy footwear that is well padded, insulated and made from materials such as leather which allows the shoes to breathe.
A great deal of heat is lost through the head, a problem which is compounded by the fact that hard hats do not provide protection against the cold. If a hard hat is needed, wear a tightly-fitted beanie made of polypropylene or merino underneath.
The risk of cold injury can be minimized by equipment choice and design. Plant, equipment and tools should be designed so that they can be operated without having to remove items of PPE. The more complex or fiddly the activity is, the greater the likelihood that PPE will be discarded during the process which increases the risk.
To avoid harsh winter conditions, plan work that is appropriate to the weather. Check weather reports before planning your jobs so that outside tasks can be done on the best possible day.
If you cannot be adequately protected from the effects of the cold, then work must be suspended, or work regimes modified, to remove the risk of harm.
Following these steps will ensure that winter does not slow you down and your team remains productive, happy and keen during the colder months.
Want to make sure you’re on track with health and safety? Our expert health and safety advisors can help you figure out what improvements you need by auditing your site.