As winter approaches, we must shift our focus on working life in the colder months. And although we would prefer to spend the winter months hibernating, unfortunately work doesn’t allow us this luxury. Working in lower temperatures can bring about numerous adverse effects on performance and health. Being exposed to the cold can involve thermal discomfort, increased stress, decreased performance and cold-related illnesses and injuries.
Many industries require a considerable amount of exposure to the cold outdoors, for example, construction workers, delivery workers and the police. At the same time, many indoor workers also face the same exposure, such as supermarket staff, labourers in the food processing industry and those in the transportation chain. However, regardless of whether your job is based outdoors or indoors, it’s important to take measures to stay safe when working in winter.
In this article, we will discuss how winter can impact you as well as a number of winter working safety tips to help prepare for the colder months ahead.
The Effects of the Cold
For outdoor workers, the impact of lower temperatures include:
- Dehydration – whilst this is a common risk when working in warmer temperatures, it can be worse in colder weather. As we tend to layer up when the weather gets cold, this also means that we sweat more. When temperatures are lower, sweat will evaporate quicker and therefore our bodies lose water, resulting in outdoor labourers becoming extremely dehydrated.
- Raynaud’s – this is a common condition that affects blood circulation, and it usually has an effect on fingers and toes. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, and these include the affected area changing in colour, pain, numbness, pins and needles and difficulty moving the affected area.
- Hypothermia – if body temperature drops below 35 degrees, there is a risk of hypothermia developing. This fall in temperature causes organs to shut down, and in some instances can be fatal.
- Aching joints – cold weather can cause individuals to experience pain in their joints, and the areas that are most commonly impacted are the knees, hips and ankles.
- Heart attacks – when temperatures are low, blood flow is concentrated more in the central part of the body, putting the heart under more strain. Scientists found that colder temperatures are linked to higher heart attack rates.
For indoor workers, the impact of lower temperatures include:
- Colds and flu – as the weather gets colder, our immune systems can weaken, so catching a cold or flu is more likely to happen in winter. Poor ventilation in workplaces can result in such illnesses spreading more when working closely to others.
- Asthma – cold or damp weather conditions can irritate the airways of those who suffer with asthma. Likewise, so can closed environments with heating and inadequate ventilation, for example offices.
Winter Working Safety Tips
- Keep Up to Date with Compliance
When renting a property for your business, you have some responsibilities by law – and most will depend on what’s declared on your lease. For example, you’ll be required to undertake a health and safety risk assessment and take action to eliminate any risks – particularly in winter. At MSL, we can take care of all this for you – regulatory compliance maintenance services ensure your facility is compliant with current business legislation. Our team of specialists are well versed in every compliance law and regulation so that you don’t have to worry.
- Regular HVAC System Maintenance
The most common cause of heating (and cooling) issues are dirty filters in HVAC systems. This is because they can prevent airflow, which results in pollutants recirculating and gathering indoors in the workplace. A clean filter improves air quality which in turn helps your heating system to operate more efficiently. Therefore, you may want to consider a planned maintenance programme to ensure that all air movement units and devices are well maintained. Within this service, our expert team will clean your HVAC system’s filters and coils to remove bacteria of any kind, as well as check that the air conditioning unit is operating correctly. Our team will also undertake scheduled checks and maintain your systems for you, making breakdowns less likely, therefore guaranteeing that staff can operate comfortably in winter.
- Stay Well Nourished
Ensure you drink plenty of fluids, as you dehydrate quicker in cold weather conditions. Dehydration causes headaches, dizziness and fatigue, and whether you work indoors or outdoors, it’s important to stay alert. As well as this, eating an adequate amount of food during the day is also crucial – particularly fats and carbohydrates. Your body utilises those nutrients as energy to keep warm in winter temperatures. Where possible, try to eat warm foods and drink warm drinks, as this can also help you remain warmer throughout the day.
- Wear Appropriate Clothing
Wearing clothes that are appropriate for the job you’re undertaking is crucial, especially if your position requires you to be outside for extended periods of time. It’s recommended that light layers of clothing are worn, so that you can remove or add to these accordingly if the temperature changes. And don’t forget that thermals are a must. Wind, rain and the constant appearance and disappearance of the sun can lead to dramatic changes in how warm or cold you feel. However, these layers will help to keep moisture away from the skin, providing a barrier to the wind. And remember – always take a dry change of clothes with you to work. If the weather happens to make your clothes damp, having spare clothing to change into will save you much discomfort.
Your extremities (fingers, toes, tip of nose, ears, etc.) are more prone to frostbite in comparison to other parts of your body. And when your body temperature begins to dip, blood flow around the central part of your body will increase to protect your vital organs, whilst your extremities suffer the consequences. Therefore, it’s a smart idea to invest in waterproof boots (with good tread for wet and icy winter) and gloves, to keep these parts of your body dry and warm. And in this case, don’t hesitate to also purchase hand and foot warmers – they will come handy when working in winter.
If your profession requires you to wear a safety helmet, it’s advised that you wear insulation under this. However, you must ensure that it’s suitable as head protection that is an odd shape, is too bulky or slides off easily could impact how well your safety helmet shields you. Remember – never create a hazard in a bid to fix another.
- Always Be Visible
When working in winter, it’s important to keep in mind that visibility can be reduced. As the days are shorter and nightfall appears quicker, this often means that you can expect to head to and back from work in complete darkness. Similarly, severe winter weather, for instance snow or fog, can also cause decrease visibility. Therefore, it’s important that you take the necessary measures to ensure you’re as visible as possible, to both road users and pedestrians. Try to avoid wearing too many dark pieces of clothing, and as well as this, you may want to consider wearing a high visibility vest, especially if you’re going to be working outside.
- Take Regular Breaks
When the weather is hot, we take more frequent breaks to get time away from the heat to cool down. The same also applies to cold weather. In particular, if you work outdoors, take breaks more regularly to warm up and go somewhere warm and dry. Make yourself aware of the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia, so that you can monitor these whilst working in winter. And where possible, plan your outdoor work to take place during the warmest parts of the day.
- Use Heated Products
Focusing on daily duties in the workplace becomes much easier when being able to operate in an environment that’s not cold. If you’re working indoors, for example in an office, heated products can make working in winter more comfortable.
During the coldest months of winter, the standard heating available in your workplace may not cut it. Therefore, you may want to consider using space heaters to add extra warmth to the environment you’re working in. However, it’s important that you take incredible care with such heaters. Make sure that anything flammable, for instance rugs, clothing and curtains, are kept at least 3 feet away from the heater. And remember to always switch off the heaters before you leave your workplace.
You can also invest in a hand-warming mouse to keep your hands warm whilst working. Plus, some even come with features such as acupressure points, which can help keep you relaxed at work. There are also mug warmers available to keep hot drinks warm throughout the day, and therefore keep your body warm from within.
- Adjust Work Schedule
Cold weather can be a huge issue for people working over the winter months. This is especially true for outdoor labourers, as they’re not able to control the temperature like indoor workers may be able to (to some extent). And therefore, this means that these people can be exposed to unhealthy temperature drops.
Those who work outside or in buildings where heating can’t be controlled, it may be a good idea to consider flexible working patterns and job rotations. If you start work earlier in the morning, this will mean that your job won’t take place during the darkest hours of the day. And if your profession involves both outside and inside work – planning is key. Try to complete as many outdoor jobs as possible, prior to winter setting in, leaving indoor responsibilities for when the weather is colder.
- Prepare for Snow and Ice
Studies report that shovelling snow causes injuries to 11,000 adults and children every year. If your job involves coming into contact with snow, make sure you use an ergonomically shaped shovel if possible. Remember to pace yourself, don’t attempt to lift too much at once and where possible push the snow rather than lifting it.
There may be situations where you have no choice but to walk on icy parts of the ground. For instance, this could occur if the parking space at your workplace hasn’t been cleared. When faced with issues like this, walk slowly with baby steps, keep your feet flat on the ground and your arms at your side for balance. And remember, when exiting your vehicle, get out by planting both feet on the ground – using one foot at a time could result in a slip and fall injury.
If your profession involves driving, clear your windshield and windows before setting off. If you’re on the road a lot during winter, you need maximised visibility for not only yourself but other road users too. Drive with caution and leave more space for breaking – stopping distances in snow and ice can increase by as much as 10 times in comparison to normal weather conditions.
Working in winter can have its cons. However, by following our winter working safety tips, you can stay safe whilst working in the colder months. And for those in management, employing a facilities management team can ensure that you keep on top of maintenance and compliance ahead of the winter season.
To talk to us more about staying safe when working in winter, or other services we provide, please give us a call on 0333 1234450.