Working outdoors in the winter can expose you to dangerously low temperatures. This cold weather can heighten your risk of experiencing a variety of complications, including hypothermia. This condition is typically caused by spending extended periods in extreme cold but can also happen after getting drenched by rain or being submerged in frigid water. Key symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, drowsiness, confusion, shallow breathing, slurred speech, loss of coordination and unconsciousness. If left untreated, hypothermia can be fatal. With this in mind, it’s vital to implement the following safety precautions to help prevent hypothermia on the job:
- Check the weather before working outdoors to prepare yourself properly. Try to limit your time outside if weather conditions are extremely cold or wet.
- Wear several breathable yet protective layers of clothing while you work. This includes an inner layer to keep sweat away from the skin (lightweight wool), a middle layer to warm the body (fleece or microfiber insulation), and an outer layer that will repel wind, snow and rain (polyester or nylon). In addition to these layers, make sure you bundle up with:
- A hat that covers your head and ears
- A scarf or neck warmer
- Mittens (rather than gloves)
- Thick wool socks
- Waterproof boots
- Be sure to eat healthy foods rich in carbohydrates and protein prior to working in the cold to help fuel your body. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during and after your shift.
- Tell your supervisor if you develop any early symptoms of hypothermia (e.g., shivering and drowsiness) and go indoors to warm up. If your condition doesn’t improve, seek medical attention.
For more winter safety guidance, talk to your supervisor.
Snow Shoveling Safety Tips
Although shoveling snow on the job can help clear pathways and prevent ice buildup, this task comes with serious safety risks. After all, repeated shoveling requires significant physical exertion, which—when paired with the frigid outdoor elements—can take a dangerous toll on your body. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the risks and utilize proper precautions while you shovel snow. The most prevalent risks associated with shoveling snow include the following:
- Sprains and strains—Because shoveling requires you to move potentially heavy amounts of snow in an awkward position for an extended period, this task can easily cause sprains and strains if you aren’t careful. These injuries typically occur in your wrists, shoulders, back and ankles.
- Frostbite—Working in chilly conditions can also increase your risk of developing frostbite, which entails a freezing of the skin and its underlying tissues. Frostbite can result in stinging, numbness and blistering in the affected areas (usually your fingers, toes or face). If left untreated, frostbite can cause permanent tissue damage.
- Heart complications—If you overexert yourself while shoveling snow, the cold weather could contribute to a sharp rise in your heart rate and blood pressure, thus decreasing your overall blood supply and potentially causing a heart attack—which could be fatal.
Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when shoveling snow at work:
- Avoid shoveling right after eating or while smoking.
- Take some time to stretch before you begin shoveling to prepare your body for the physical demands of the task.
Try to push the snow instead of lifting it. If you must lift snow while shoveling, use a smaller shovel or only partially fill your shovel with snow to avoid lifting too much at a time. In addition, be sure to lift with your legs rather than your back.
- Don’t overexert yourself. Pay attention to how you feel while you shovel—never work to the point of exhaustion. If you begin to feel overly fatigued, stop shoveling and inform your supervisor.
- Consider utilizing a snowblower rather than a shovel when handling large amounts of snow. However, make sure you are properly trained to do so. Consult your supervisor before making any equipment changes.
- Make sure you know the key signs of a heart attack (e.g., chest discomfort, shortness of breath, and pain in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach). If you start to experience these symptoms, stop shoveling and call 911 (or ask someone to call for you, if necessary).
Reach out to your supervisor if you have any further questions or concerns about shoveling snow.