Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She has over six years of experience writing articles in the industrial sector.
Cold stress can pose a serious health and safety risk to construction workers, but there are ways to prevent it. This group of illnesses and injuries results from working in chilly, damp weather. Some regions are at higher risk than others, but all leaders should be aware of the danger and how to prevent it.
The Risks of Cold Stress
Exposure to cold conditions for an extended period can make it difficult for bodies to retain heat. Damp, wet conditions worsen the situation significantly since cold liquid siphons away heat from the body on top of what’s already being lost to the cold air.
For example, trench foot occurs when damp socks and shoes cause reduced blood circulation in the feet, which can lead to oxygen deprivation and cause foot tissue to die. Frostbite is a similar condition that can affect any part of the body, with the hands at especially high risk.
Top Cold Stress Prevention Tips
The risks of cold stress are serious, but construction leaders can take action to protect workers in the field so everyone can do their job safely. Here are some top tips to get started with.
1. Training Is Crucial
The first and most important step to preventing cold stress is providing training for construction workers and managers. The top priority in a cold stress training program should be going over all the signs and symptoms of injuries and illness, plus key prevention tips. The CDC has a wealth of resources on cold stress problems that can be helpful for creating a training program, especially when it comes to understanding key symptoms.
2. Ensure Everyone Has the Right Gear
The right gear is critical for preventing cold stress. Going over proper winter weather gear for construction workers should be covered in the training program. People who understand what they should wear can take action to protect themselves in cold weather.
Proper cold-weather gear should include a lined hard hat, thick, waterproof gloves, a waterproof bomber or winter jacket, and waterproof boots. Lined boots can help with warmth, as well. The importance of waterproofing throughout cannot be overstated. It’s key to preventing hypothermia, trench foot and frostbite.
3. Provide Warm Spaces for Breaks
A common theme among cold stress illnesses and injuries is “prolonged exposure.” Wearing cold, damp boots for a few minutes isn’t usually dangerous, but doing so for hours on end could result in a trip to the hospital. Construction managers must ensure there is a space on-site that is dry and warm.
This way, construction workers have a place to go during breaks where they can reset and dry off. Simply taking the time to warm back up at regular intervals can go a long way toward preventing cold stress on construction teams.
4. Establish a Safety Monitoring System
Someone suffering from cold stress symptoms may be so chilly they don’t notice or may ignore problems out of determination to get the job done. A monitoring system on-site can help catch symptoms early. There are various ways construction leaders can do this. For example, working in pairs is helpful and convenient. Regular symptom check-ins with a manager on-site are also a good option.
5. Know When to Reschedule Work Hours
Sometimes the best way to prevent cold stress is to keep construction workers out of the elements altogether. Team leaders and project managers must pay close attention to anticipated weather conditions during cold seasons. Once temperatures drop below a certain level, managers should be prepared to cancel or postpone work hours for everyone’s safety.
The National Weather Service has a helpful wind chill calculator chart that can help track measured and experienced temperatures. Pay close attention to precipitation, as well. There is a major difference between cold, dry weather and cold, damp weather.
Staying Safe in Chilly Weather
Cold stress is a risk factor that construction teams must take seriously. Workers can stay safe with the right preparation and precautions. Preventing cold stress is all about awareness, proper gear and careful monitoring.