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How to Stay Safe During Freezing Winter Weather


Safety is of the utmost importance. Ensure crews are safe through the snowy season with these tips.

January 29, 2024

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Typically, January is the coldest month of the year, which can cause extreme working conditions for crews. Working in low-temperature inclement weather for long periods of time can cause serious harm or injury, commonly called cold stress, which occurs when the skin and internal body temperatures are lowered. 

Below are some common forms of cold stress and tips to avoid negative impacts to crew health. 


Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a medical emergency where your body loses heat more quickly than it can produce heat. Normal body temperature is around 98.6F, and hypothermia develops when body temperature is below 95F. While most people have heard of hypothermia, many people don’t realize it can occur even when the temperature is above freezing. The CDC lists the symptoms as:

  • Shivering
  • Slurred speech
  • Weak pulse
  • Confusion or memory loss 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Lack of coordination 
  • Shallow breathing

Get medical attention immediately if you notice a crew member with the above symptoms. If hypothermia isn’t treated, it can lead to heart and respiratory failure. While waiting for help, gently move the crew member to the warmest area possible, remove any wet clothing, and warm the body with layers of blankets.   


Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury that typically affects extremities like the nose, ears, fingers, and toes. It can permanently damage the body and in some cases, can lead to amputation. Those with poor circulation are more prone to frostbite. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Red skin develops white or grey/yellow skin patches
  • Firm or waxy feeling skin
  • Tingling or aching
  • Numbness 

This injury may be harder for people to realize they have since the body parts are frozen and numb. Have crew members look after one another to stay safe and instruct team members to layer clothing on extremities properly throughout the workday.


Trench Foot

Trench foot (also known as immersion foot) occurs when the feet stay wet for a long time. You may notice the feet may be red and dry after they warm. It’s likely blisters will form, and later skin tissue dying and peeling. 

Symptoms include:

  • Itchiness
  • Tingling or prickliness 
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Cold skin
  • Blotchy skin
  • Numbness 

Trench foot is preventable and treatable. At the end of the workday, thoroughly clean, air-dry, and elevate your feet. Change out of wet socks and shoes as soon as possible, even if you need to change into a new pair of clean socks during the workday. 

Treatment is similar – continue to clean, air-dry, and elevate feet. You can also apply warm packs around your feet or soak them in warm water for five minutes to relieve pain. Avoid wearing socks when sleeping. Like any other urgent ailment, seek medical assistance as soon as possible. 


Cold Stress Prevention 

Being prepared is the best defense against cold weather, but additionally, taking a first aid and/or CPR class is always recommended to prepare for any health emergencies on the jobsite. 

Remind your crews to layer clothing. Ideally, the inner layer should wick sweat, the middle layer retains warmth, and the outer layer shell protects against wind gusts and precipitation. 

If associates get wet, allow them to change into dry gear as soon as possible. Continuing to wear wet clothes puts you at risk for all the injuries listed above. 

Always wear hats and gloves, as this will help retain body warmth. Hats should cover the ears and ideally are made of wool or a knit material. 

While crew members always wear boots, in the winter, it’s best to wear waterproof versions. 

Finally, allow for breaks somewhere that’s heated. Crew members should also be hydrating consistently even though they may not feel dehydrated. 

Have any safety questions? SiteOne can help. Just ask your local branch for cold related personal protective equipment. 

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