Preparing employees to work in harsh winter weather conditions takes more than a reminder on the bulletin board to wear their hats and gloves. Acclimating workers to cold climates needs to begin before the temperature drops, and it requires more than just adding additional clothing.
In addition to adding layers of clothing, staying warm during outdoor work also involves having the proper mindset, nutrition, and stamina to prevent hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related injuries. Preparing mentally as well as physically helps employees to recognize the warning signs and effects of cold stress and their limitations.
Psychological & Behavioral Needs
Every person perceives and tolerates temperature differently. Although two people may have the same core temperatures, one may say that he feels cold while the other may say that she is comfortable.
Because of individual differences in the way that people approach working in cold environments, acclimation will occur at different paces. This is because each person needs to adjust to their environmental stimuli and process it in their own time and in their own way.
Differences also may be regional. An employee who has lived in cold weather climates for several years is likely to acclimate faster than one who has never experienced extreme cold.
Introducing cold weather work tips and other outdoor cold weather safety concepts in trainings during the early fall can help workers get into the mindset. It can also be helpful to review work practices, such as the use of the buddy system.
Using the buddy system when working in cold conditions is essential because hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold related injuries affect people differently. Teaching everyone to recognize signs of confusion, slurred speech, and shivering in themselves and others can help prevent injuries.
When a person feels cold, one of the ways the body responds is by making them feel hungry, because food provides fuel. Staying properly fed and hydrated can help workers better withstand cold working conditions and fatigue.
What to eat and when to eat it are important considerations. Diets that are high in protein combined with fats and carbohydrates will help to balance nutritional needs with the demands of working outdoors in the cold. Eating six to eight small snacks throughout the day helps the body to convert food calories to heat over the course of the day is better than eating one or two heavy meals.
Dehydration causes fatigue in all types of weather conditions. Most adults need at least four liters of water a day to avoid the symptoms of dehydration. Working hard and in extreme temperatures increases this need.
Workers need to remain warm when they are working outdoors but should not wear so much clothing that they sweat, because sweating is a defense mechanism that cools the body. When a person sweats in cold conditions, it can cause cooling that is too rapid, leading to hypothermia. Dressing in layers allows the worker to add or remove layers to maintain warmth without sweating.
Layers should include a wicking layer closest to the body to remove moisture from the skin. A thin insulting layer over this, followed by a heavier insulating layer, will help trap and maintain body heat. Durable wind and waterproof layers over this help to further insulate workers.
If employees will experience wet conditions, consider fabrics such as wool, fleece, and polypropylene that remain warm when they are wet. Cotton fabrics will draw heat away from the body, and goose down loses its insulting properties when it is wet.
Layering also applies to clothing worn on the extremities. Layer socks with a wicking layer closest to the foot followed by a warmer sock over it. Like other clothing, socks should be loose fitting.
Winter hats, toques, and balaclavas (ski masks) are essential to help to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. Many styles even fit well when wearing hard hats and other personal protective equipment.