Hazard Alert: Working in Cold Weather

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

CPWR has updated its pocket-sized hazard alert about preparing to work safely in cold weather.
2016

When the temperature drops...

thermometer in the snow

During the winter, construction workers face a natural hazard – cold weather. The colder it gets, the more energy you need to use to stay warm. When it is also windy and raining or snowing your body uses even more energy and loses heat faster. Working in cold or freezing temperatures for a long time can lead to health problems.

What are the health risks and symptoms?

Health Risk: Symptoms:
Hypothermia

Your temperature drops to 95°F or lower (a normal temperature is 98.6°F).
You:

  • Shiver and stomp your feet to stay warm
  • Feel unusually tired
  • Lose coordination
  • Become confused
  • Lose consciousness
Frostbite

Your skin freezes and becomes:

  • Red with gray/white patches
  • Numb- you cannot feel the area
  • Blistered (in serious cases)
Trench Foot

Your foot is:

  • Tingly/Itchy
  • Red and Blotchy
  • Swollen and/or numb - you cannot feel your foot

Protect Yourself In Three Steps

1 Dress for the weather...

worker dressed for the cold in a jacket, scarf, hat, and gloves
Photo: TECHNICAL
ADVANTAGE GEAR

OSHA recommends wearing:1

  • Inner and outer layers that will keep you dry;
  • A hat or hood that covers your ears, and a knit mask (if needed);
  • Waterproof and insulated gloves; and
  • Waterproof and insulated boots.

Carry extra clothes in case the ones you are wearing get wet.
1
OSHA Winter Weather Preparedness
https://www.osha.gov/dts/ weather/winter_weather/beprepared.html

2 Drink the right liquids...

To avoid becoming dehydrated, dink plenty of warm, sweet liquids, such as:

  • Sports drinks
  • Soups
  • Sugar water

Avoid liquids with caffeine, such as:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Soda
  • Hot chocolate

Do not drink alcohol. Caffeine and alcohol cause your body to lose heat.

3 Be proactive and alert...

When working in a cold environment for a long period of time:

cold weather ahead warning road sign

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold weather illnesses and injuries.
  • Take frequent breaks in a warm area.
  • Work in pairs so you and your coworker can spot the danger signs.
  • Notify your supervisor and get medical help immediately if you or another worker has symptoms of hypothermia or another cold-related illness or injury.
  • Remember - you are at a higher risk if you take certain medications, are in poor physical condition, or supper from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease.

Learn more about how to work safely in cold weather.

Visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
https://www.osha.gov/
Visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/index.htm

SOURCES:
OSHA Cold Stress Guide
https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/cold.html

NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Cold Stress
http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-115/pdfs/2010-115.pdf

If you think you are in danger:
Contact your supervisor. Contact your union.
Call OSHA 1-800-321-6742

Find out more about construction hazards.
To receive copies of this Hazard Alert and cards on other topics, call 301-578-8500 or visit www.cpwr.com


© 2016, CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training. All rights reserved. CPWR is the research, training, and service arm of North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU), and works to reduce or eliminate safety and health hazards construction workers face on the job. Production of this document was supported by Grant OH009762 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH.