5 Safety Tips for the Winter Construction Site

In Chicago’s unpredictable winter, managing conditions on the construction site is always a challenge. With the cold and ice, conditions could become extremely dangerous on the construction site almost immediately. 

Of course, safety is always our priority, especially in the winter with the possibility of slippery surfaces, cold-related injuries and frozen parts. Following are some proactive measures you can take to ensure your team’s safety on the construction site.

Stay Warm on Job

Since Chicago’s winter can be ever-changing, it’s important to be prepared. Check the weather and then always be prepared for the most extreme temperatures or conditions for that day. Layering can be key to balancing staying warm and avoiding getting overheated at times.

For more tips, check out our post on what you can wear to stay warm in the winter on the construction site

Taking short, frequent breaks in a warm spot when it’s extremely cold outside is important to protect workers from cold-related injuries, and it’s preferable to try to schedule outdoor work during the warmest part of the day. If you do not have a warm spot to take breaks, you could try to bring a portable heater or also pack hand and foot warmers for some extra warmth. 

On days when visibility is poor, wear high visibility clothing such as this High Visibility Bomber Jacket.  Not only will this keep you warm and dry, but also ensure that you and your team  keep an eye on one another during the workday. 

Inspect the Worksite

In many cases, the supervisor will inspect the worksite each day. However, if this is not a practice at your construction site, you may need to check which areas need attention and alert the supervisor. Especially when working from heights, it’s imperative to make sure the area is shoveled and de-iced. It’s important to shovel the snow in the most effective and safe way possible, especially in Chicago where snow tends to be wet and heavy. The National Safety Council recommends the following tips to shovel safely:

  • Do not shovel after eating or while smoking
  • Take it slow and stretch out before you begin
  • Shovel only fresh, powdery snow that is lighter
  • Push the snow rather than lift it
  • If you do lift it, use a small shovel or only partially fill the shovel
  • Lift with your legs, not your back
  • Do not work to the point of exhaustion
  • Know the signs of a heart attack, and stop immediately and call 911 if you’re experiencing any of them; every minute counts

Even once the worksite is properly inspected, it’s important to work more carefully around ice and snow. If you are working in the winter, consider buying a pair of boots with traction to wear when necessary. 

Beware of Cold Stress 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments may be at risk of cold stress.” As an effort to prevent cold-related injuries, “The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers implement a cold-related illness and injury prevention program that includes preventive measures such as using engineering controls, establishing work/rest schedules, training workers about the hazards of working in cold environments, and providing appropriate cold-weather gear.” 

When working in the cold, it’s helpful to know what are some examples of cold-related injuries, warning signs and what to do in the event of cold stress. 

The NIOSH has a helpful guide titled Preventing Cold-related Illness, Injury, and Death Among Workers, and here are the top four cold-related injuries:

Hypothermia 

When exposed to cold temperatures, the body loses heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold causes internal body temperature to drop, resulting in a condition called hypothermia. Hypothermia affects brain function, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well (i.e., they may be unable to protect themselves from hazards, or experience slips, trips, and falls). This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not recognize the symptoms and will be unable to make life-preserving decisions.

 Symptoms of hypothermia can depend on how long a person has been exposed to cold temperatures and individual variability.

Trench Foot

Trench foot is an injury of the feet after prolonged exposure to wet and cold-related conditions. Trench foot occurs because wet feet lose heat faster than dry feet. To prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels in the feet, and then the skin tissue begins to die. 

Symptoms of trench foot include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain, blisters or ulcers, bleeding under the skin, and gangrene (e.g., foot turns purple, blue, or gray).

Frostbite

Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and deeper tissues, resulting in the loss of feeling and color in the affected areas. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues, and severe cases can lead to amputation. Risk factors for frostbite include contact with metal or water, dehydration, diabetes, smoking, alcohol abuse, sedating or judgment impairing medications, and prior history of frostbite. 

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness; tingling or stinging; aching; and bluish or pale, waxy skin. During treatment of frostbite and trench foot, avoid rubbing or putting pressure on affected areas, since that can damage tissue. 

Chilblains

Chilblains are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in the skin that occur in response to repeated exposure to cold but nonfreezing temperatures. Small blood vessels in the skin may become permanently damaged by cold temperatures, resulting in redness and itching during additional exposures. 

Symptoms of chilblains include redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation, and possible ulceration in severe cases.

Stay Hydrated

Everyone knows that it’s important to stay hydrated when it’s hot outside, but even in the cold it’s still necessary to stay hydrated. The CDC says workers should “stay hydrated by drinking lots of water; warm beverages may help increase body temperature.” 

You may want to avoid excess coffee or tea as some say caffeine increases your heart rate, which makes you think you are warmer than you actually are. Drinking water is the easiest and best way to hydrate, and getting an insulated water bottle will ensure that your water doesn’t turn to ice on the job.

Prepare vehicles 

When working in the cold, it’s important to make sure personal and work vehicles are prepared. Inspect the vehicles to make sure they are in working order before each use,  and it’s a good idea to put a safety kit in each vehicle. 

Safety kits should include:

  • A flashlight
  • Ice Scraper 
  • Shovel
  • Tow Chain
  • Emergency Flares
  • Snacks
  • Water
  • Blankets
  • Extra Batteries

Working outside in the winter could be dangerous, but by reminding yourself of these safety tips, you are one step closer to keeping your team safe on the construction site.

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