Working during the cold winter months creates its own set of challenges for those on construction sites. It's therefore vital that all site personnel understand the dangers, recognise the warning signs and protect themselves against this annual health hazard.
Hazards of working in low temperatures
Prolonged exposure to low temperatures can have a detrimental impact on the health of site workers and others, in a number of ways.
- Concentration levels can slip which, depending on the activity being undertaken, can result in harm to the worker or those nearby
- Due diligence can be neglected to hasten job completion
- Workers' awareness of activity around them can be reduced by the misguided attempt to keep warm by limiting movement
- Slips and falls become more common due to wet and icy conditions
- Dehydration, shivering and hyperthermia can set in
Recognising the warning signs of cold stress in yourself or others, plays a significant part in reducing its risk.
- Hypothermia: when your body loses heat faster than it can be produced
- Tell-tale signs include: shivering, tiredness, incoordination, disorientation, blue skin, slow pulse and breathing
- Frostbite: a loss of feeling in the affected areas – often in the extremities
- Tell-tale signs include: numbness, tingling, aching, blue or pale skin
- Immersion foot: The result of feet being exposed to cold and wet conditions
- Tell-tale signs include: red skin, numbness, swelling, cramps, tingling, purple, blue or grey skin
There are three areas you need to consider to protect yourself fully from the effects of working in a cold climate:
Wearing the correct clothing is essential. Your winter wardrobe should reflect the following advice:
- Thermals: materials such as polyester fleece, polypropylene and wool are the best heat-retaining options
- Avoid cotton: when wet, cotton will extract heat from the body rather than retain it. Ensure cotton is not the base layer of any of your items of clothing, including underwear and socks
- Layer up: as daily tasks become more or less strenuous, it's important to be able to add or remove layers to maintain a consistent body temperature. If you start to get warmer to the point of sweating, once that activity ceases, the sweat will turn cold and your body temperature will reduce. Add or remove layers appropriate to the activity being undertaken.
Follow a recommended layering system such as:
- 1st layer: Synthetic or polypropylene fabric
- 2nd layer: Light insulation in fleece or wool
- 3rd layer: Heavy insulation in fleece or wool
- 4th layer: Windproof and waterproof jacket
In addition, wear the following:
- Balaclava and hat, or a helmet liner when needed
- Gloves with glove liners
- Socks: Wear two layers. The first layer in a polypropylene fabric. The second in wool
- Insulated boots
- Wrap-around eye protection
2) Food & drink
Eating the right food and drinking the right liquid also plays a factor in keeping warm, as does regularity. In cold conditions the body must work extra hard to stay warm, which means more energy is being burned. Replacing this energy ensures the body can continue to function properly to maintain heat.
- Good food choices: warming hearty soups, casseroles, vegetables, fatty foods such as fish, nuts and avocado
- Stay hydrated: it's recommended to drink 4-5 litres of fluid each day when working in cold conditions. Water is the best choice for remaining hydrated but may not be your preferred choice when temperatures plummet. Instead hot tea such as ginger or other spiced teas are a great option as the spices naturally warm the body along with the heat of the drink
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both restrict blood vessels which impedes the body's ability to produce heat.
3) Work structure
During winter months, it's important to take regular breaks indoors where there is adequate heating. Use this time wisely to change out of any clothing that may have become wet and nourish your body with fluids and warming food.
Working on construction sites in the winter means an increased risk to your health. But by taking these protective precautions, the danger will be minimised.
← Back to index