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Q

I am a Philadelphia construction worker and will be working outdoors this winter. What should I know about working in the cold weather?

A

Construction work is often dangerous. Some obvious dangers are falls, scaffolding collapse, trench collapse, electrical accidents, equipment malfunctions and repetitive motion injuries. Another danger is winter weather. When workers don’t take proper precautions, working in winter conditions can lead to cold-related illness and injuries, such as frostbite and hypothermia. These conditions can cause permanent tissue damage and even death.

Tips to Prepare for Working in Philadelphia’s Winter Weather

  1. Dress for the weather. Consider both the weather and your activity level when choosing clothing. If you are very active, bundling up too much will make you sweat. This will cause the clothing next to your body to become wet. Since wet clothing can’t insulate, you may become chilled increasing the risk for cold injuries.
  2. Dress in layers. There are two advantages to dressing in layers. If you wear multiple layers of clothing, you can remove or add layers to stay comfortable in changing weather conditions. Also, the air between layers of clothing provides additional insulation.  In fact, the air layers can provide more warmth than the clothing itself.
  3. Wear a base layer that wicks moisture. Thermal underwear made from polyesters or polypropylene provides insulation while it wicks away the perspiration that can dampen clothing and cause chills.
  4. Outer jackets should be waterproof and windproof. It is important to have a waterproof outer layer when it is raining or snowing. If you get wet, you will get chilled. If the workplace is windy, you will need a windbreaker or windproof outer garment to protect from wind chill injuries.
  5. Outer jackets should be easy to open and close. Look for jackets that can be opened or closed at the cuffs, neck and waist. This will let you choose whether you want to hold in your body heat or allow ventilation to cool you down. Netted pockets or vents offer additional ventilation options. Your jacket should be easy to remove if you get too hot. If you have to undo a lot of buttons, you may choose to keep it on and sweat.
  6. Wear a hat. As much as 50 percent of a worker’ body heat is lost through the head. Wear a wool knit hat or fleece liner under your hard hat.
  7. Wear gloves. A good rule is to wear gloves when the temperature is below 40 degrees or 20 degrees if you are engaged in strenuous activity. Wear mittens if the temperature is in the single digits. Gloves should be made of wool or synthetic fibers which retain their insulating properties when wet.
  8. Clean clothing is warmer than dirty clothing. Dirt fills in the air pockets in fabric reducing its ability to insulate.
  9. Wear appropriate footwear. Lined, leather boots will keep your feet warm while allowing them to breathe. However, you will need waterproof boots if your work involves standing in snow, slush or water. Choose wool or synthetic socks with good wicking properties. Make sure that your socks are comfortable.
  10. Stay dry. Remove your outerwear when you come indoors.
  11. Remove clothing as you warm up. First take off your gloves, hat and scarf. Open your jacket at the wrists and waist. Then remove clothing starting with the top layer. As you get cold, replace the layers in reverse order.
  12. Avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods. Moving will help maintain circulation to your extremities.
  13. Eat frequently. Working in the cold uses energy. Your body needs energy to maintain body heat.
  14. Stay hydrated. Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids. Avoid caffeine because it increases the blood flow to the skin surface which will increase the loss of body heat. Avoid alcohol because it impairs the body’s ability to regulate temperature.
  15. Work in teams. This allows workers to monitor each other for cold weather injury and provide help if needed.

 

Workplace injuries inclued cold-related illness and injuries. It is important that construction site supervisors recognize that cold weather conditions may be dangerous, and take appropriate steps to protect worker safety. Feel free to share this information with your supervisor, co-workers or friends who work in cold weather.