How to Work Safely In the Cold

Polar vortex or not, working in the cold can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Learn how to stay safe here.

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Cold weather safety

According to OSHA, prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures can cause serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite, hypothermia, and, in extreme cases, death. OSHA notes that some workers can face an increased risk of cold-related problems when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition, have diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Here in Minnesota winter weather can get severe, and if I had my way I’d stay indoors through most of it.  However, we have buildings and houses to build and maintain, money to be made, and families to provide for.  So if you or your crew do find yourself outside during the cold weather and snow, here are some tips to help you stay safe and warm.  

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Cold weather clothing guide

Always wearing the warmest clothes possible sounds like a good idea, but it’s actually not. Overdressing will cause you to sweat. Sweating makes you wet. Being wet and cold is a formula for disaster. Wear several layers that you can add to or remove as conditions change.  

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Bring extra clothing

Our guys, myself included, would always bring an extra pair of clothes and shoes to change into at the end of the day or on those days when you might fall into an ice puddle and get soaked through. This is a good tip for rainy days or any time of the year really.  

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Stay hydrated 

People don’t associate cold temps and dehydration, but they should, and here’s why: Cold weather reduces our thirst response and makes us go to the bathroom more often. And because we are wearing heavy clothes, our body is working harder, causing it to burn more calories and sweat. We may not notice how much we’re sweating because the cold dry air causes the sweat to evaporate faster. Drink lots of liquids. Water is the best! 

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First Aid

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Emergency / first aid kits. 

Every company should have an emergency/first aid kit on site year-round. But those kits should be modified in the winter to include a shovel, ice scraper, water, meal bars, emergency flares, a backup battery for cellphones, hand warmers, and solar blankets. I believe that a kit like this should be in every winter-climate-dweller’s car as well. Watch this episode of Stuff We Love to see more truck necessities you should have on hand. 

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Teach yourself and your employees to understand the signs of dehydration, frostbite and hypothermia

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Provide a warm break area

Make this part of the plan! Breaks, especially in the winter, are extremely important. Having a warm place for workers to take a break is essential.  

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Stay fit

This is a tough one to enforce as an employer, but eating properly, staying fit and getting enough sleep should be encouraged any way you find most affective.

For more tips to working in the cold, click here.

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About the Author:

While in school, Chris started working at a local lumberyard fulfilling orders and creating estimates for construction projects. After two years of technical college,  Chris accepted a job as a carpenter with a high-end remodeler and after a few years became one of their lead carpenters.

From there, he spent a year in the  carpenter s union working commercial construction but decided that he liked the interaction in residential remodeling better so returned and stayed for 15 years. During that period he became a supervisor, then a project manager, and eventually a partner and license holder for the business he was working for. For the last five years Chris has worked in industrial and commercial maintenance as a director and a boiler operator.