By: Alec Schaufenbuel
We live in Iowa and we’ve already had our first hints of winter – AND it’s only November! The early snow and freezing days were an excellent reminder of what it’s like to work in winter conditions. So, now as we prepare for winter to arrive fully, let’s remind ourselves and our crews of how to properly and safely work in Iowa’s challenging winter months.
Three things to watch for this winter to perform the work safely:
1. Slip hazards – namely ice
2. Frostbite and hypothermia
3. Proper equipment is available
BONUS: Diet changes – more water, higher carb foods (warmed preferably) and less caffeine.
Starting at the top of our list, to eliminate slip hazards from ice, use ice melt or sand. Even better, eliminate areas where water can pool or divert water flows away from common walking areas. Also, just use general caution when walking outdoors this winter. Slow down and watch your steps!
Next, while it is in fact hard to imagine frostbite or hypothermia when we hit 50 and 60° temperatures last week, they are two very real problems that we need to be on guard for. Now is a great time to review the warning signs of each.
Frostbite warning signs:
- Numb, cold skin
- Red/white/grayish/blue skin
- Hard or waxy looking skin
- Clumsiness due to joint or muscle stiffness
Hypothermia warning signs:
- Slurred speech
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Low energy
To prevent these problems, ensure that you and those around you are properly covered and in appropriate outdoor gear and take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas out of the wind. Winter injuries can occur in less than 30 minutes when the wind chill hits -16° F and should not be taken lightly.
Finally, having proper winter equipment on jobsites will help keep everyone safe. Salt and sand are the obvious necessities as they help avoid the slips that I mentioned earlier. But heaters are also incredibly important to have around. Heaters are used to keep everyone going. They are great for standing near to warm up on a break and can help keep the whole area warmer overall. All heaters must be properly placed thought and any fuel must be stored per OSHA’s standards. Keep the area around heaters and fuel free of fire hazards. And if a heater is being used indoors, the air quality will need to be monitored.
I threw in a bonus because our diets can also affect the way we handle working in the cold. Best practice in life is to drink plenty of water and that’s no different during the cold months so, drink lots of water! But in the winter months, it’s also helpful to eat high carbohydrate foods and eat something that is warm if possible. Decreasing caffeine and alcohol consumption in general will also help you as you try to stay warm.
Basically, do your best to stay warm as the days get colder. Stocking hats, gloves, hoodies, coats and winter boots are all great additions to your regular PPE attire. I also hear that soup is pretty great this time of year (and I like when people share).