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Working in Cold Weather

Thu January 12, 2017 - National Edition
Jeff Winke

Cold weather gear is essential for working in extreme winter weather.
Cold weather gear is essential for working in extreme winter weather.

Cold weather can be dangerous to work in. I know that what someone considers cold can differ where they live. Cold in Grand Forks, North Dakota or Fairbanks, Alaska is different than Key West, Florida. I live in a state where some avid NFL fans think that if their bare chests are painted forest green and cheese gold that they are immune to sub-zero temperatures. For most “normal people,” there is a respect for being in cold air temperatures and the accompanying even colder wind-chill temperatures. The risks are too great.

Construction contractors are mindful of weather extremes and usually don't work during those stretches or limit the amount of time spent out in the elements. Sometimes a project needs to be furthered or completed in cold weather, which we'll define as being air temperatures that are colder than 40 degrees F.

Skilven Publications, which offers resources to support safe practices and healthy living, offers these five tips for working in cold weather, which I've modified.

1. Beware of Slips and Falls – Slippery ice patches can loom where least expected. Hands out of pockets for balance, walk slowly and flat-footed with weight distributed over your feet. Be one with your inner penguin.

2. Wear Proper Clothing – Wear multiple layers to stay warm and dry, as well as waterproof shoes or boots with slip-resistant treads. It's better to remove your insulated gloves and unzip a goose-down jacket when you are warm, then to regret not having them when you are not.

3. When Driving, Drive Defensively – It's not a race, so don't drive to win…drive to stay out of accidents. In wintery weather, there is always the hot dog and the absentee driver – watch for them and stay out of their ways and decide if you want to be nice and call 9-1-1 when you see them later crashed off the side of the road.

4. Drink Plenty of Liquids – Water and sport drinks are best. Each time you see your breath in the cold you're watching water leave your body. Hot drinks will keep you warm, but chug good old-fashioned water every chance you can.

5. Optimize and Conserve Your Energy – The colder it is outside the more energy you burn to stay warm. Add wind and rain or snow, and the body uses more energy and loses heat faster. Take breaks in warm, dry locations to restore yourself for the next exposure to the cold. Establish the summer-camp-buddy system for working outside. That way you can monitor each other for signs of fatigue, frostbite, and hypothermia.

Winter can be wonderful for recreation, sports, or just an invigorating walk outside. Nothing is better than making snow angels, building snowmen, or writing your name with yellow ink.

Unfortunately, we can't always live in a magical snow globe, so when working outside we need to prepare for hazards that we don't normally think twice about. Working in cold weather requires extra thought, preparation, and awareness to prevent illness and injury. CEG Blogger

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