Winter has finally arrived here in Wisconsin, with significant snow fall earlier this week followed by extreme cold temperatures. I dread even having to walk outside to my car in temperatures that feel like -30 degrees – the idea of working outside in such cold sounds like pure torture. Feelings aside, there is real, significant danger associated with working outside in such extreme cold.
It is essential to protect yourself when working outdoors as prolonged exposure to extremely cold weather can result in severe consequences such as frostbite, dehydration, and hypothermia. The following tips will help keep you safe when working in cold weather.
Dress for the Weather
Layers of winter clothing works in the same way insulation does – trapping heat from your body within the layers to help keep you warm. Layers made of synthetic, quick drying material are essential, as they will help ensure that your sweat evaporates.
Stay Dry. Damp clothing can drop your body temperature up to 25% faster than you’d otherwise experience. Wear moisture-wicking base layers to draw away sweat, and wind/waterproof gear as an outer shell to prevent you from getting your under layers wet. Remove any wet clothing immediately. Warm and waterproof footwear. Cover as much exposed skin as possible, your body’s extremities (ears, nose, fingers, and toes lose heat the fastest).
Outdoor Gear. Wear a hat. You lose body heat faster through your head than any other part of your body. If you go outdoors without your head covered, you stand to lose up to 50% more body heat in cold weather conditions.
For your hands: Mittens are the most effective hand-wear to protect your hands from extreme cold conditions. For situations that require more use of your hands than mittens will allow, wear insulated gloves – especially if you will have any contact with metal surfaces.
Other exposed areas: Extremities such as your fingers, toes, nose, and ears are the first areas affected by the cold. Utilizing a face mask, scarf, or balaclava will help limit your exposed skin and provide more protection from the elements.
Eating & Drinking
Cold weather will cause you to become dehydrated more quickly. (Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, dizziness, and fatigue). Ensuring that you drink enough liquid throughout the day is a vital component to surviving the cold.
Just as important is to ensure that you are eating enough fat and carbohydrates to allow your body the energy it needs to maintain your body heat.
Plan & Take Breaks from the Cold
Being cold causes more than just discomfort. Make sure you take breaks to allow your body time to warm back up. Many areas that experience extreme cold do not have regulated exposure limits for working in it. The following table provides guidelines, developed by the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), for a work/warm-up schedule.
Working outdoors in the winter can be brutal, but if you take the necessary precautions to protect yourself, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of cold-related injuries or accidents.
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