When it’s snowy and blustery out, you don’t exactly have the option of taking a “snow day.” While others leisurely sip cocoa and make snow angels, electrical contractors are out there braving the weather and getting the job done.
Cold weather conditions aren’t just an uncomfortable nuisance—they can be extremely dangerous. Your best defense against the cold? Education and preventative action.
With that said, here are a few tips to help you work safely in extreme cold weather conditions. While these tips aren’t a substitute for proper medical care, getting educated is a good place to start. (When in doubt, consult your doctor or a licensed safety professional.)
When cold, harsh environments can’t be avoided, be sure to dress the part. To keep cold stress at bay, suit up in the gear that’ll keep you warm, dry, and working optimally. Here are a few guidelines from OSHA on dressing appropriately for cold working conditions:
- Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing, since layers provide better insulation.
- To keep warmth-stealing moisture away from your body, wear an inner layer made of materials like wool, silk, or synthetic (polypropylene)—all of which hold more body heat than cotton.
- To keep warm even if you get wet, wear a middle layer of wool or synthetic.
- To provide ventilation (which prevents overheating), wear an outer layer that offers wind and rain protection. Zip up in an insulated, water-resistant coat/jacket.
- Wear clothes that are snug, but not too tight. (Tight clothing is thought to reduce the blood circulation you need to stay warm.)
- Put on a knit mask or balaclava to cover your face and mouth (if needed).
- To keep your noggin toasty, wear a hat that covers your ears. (Body warmth escapes from your head first.) If you’re wearing a hardhat, slip a knitted hat on underneath to keep your head (and entire body) warm.
- Wear water-resistant, insulated gloves to keep your digits warm and dry.
- To protect your toes and feet, wear insulated, waterproof boots.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that contractors working in cold weather take breaks in warm locations, when possible. That could mean eating lunch inside a heated trailer on the jobsite, in your car or truck with the heat blasted, or in a coffee shop or restaurant close by (if that’s an option).
On extremely cold days, NIOSH recommends limiting the amount of time spent outside altogether. When in doubt, opt for shorter days until the weather warms up. Or you could extend your workday and take breaks every few hours or so. There are no heroes here. Safety is priority #1.
Always keep an eye on your physical condition, and that of your co-workers. Be sure to keep a first aid kit close by with chemical hot packs and a thermometer to measure body temperature. NIOSH also recommends carrying extra cold weather gear, like spare jackets, blankets, socks, gloves, and a change or two of clothes.
In case you need an excuse to drink more cocoa (I’m always looking for one), NIOSH suggests keeping a thermos with hot liquid close by—soup, tea, and cocoa are all good options. Choose a high-quality, well-insulated thermos that’ll keep your drink hot for most of the day. Just be sure to not overdo it with caffeinated beverages. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that caffeinated beverages cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
Before setting foot in cold working environments, know the physical signs of cold stress conditions, like frostbite, trench foot, hypothermia, and chilblains. NIOSH’s Cold Stress Guide lists a few signs to keep an eye out for. If you or a co-worker are experiencing any of these symptoms, stop work and seek immediate medical attention.
Over To You
As National Market Manager at Graybar, Todd’s goal is to find the best products and solutions to help contractors work more efficiently, stay safe on the job, and win more productive and profitable business.
Sources & Credits
Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA): Winter Weather
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): Cold Stress
Electrical Contractor: You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Coat: Working In Cold Environments
CDC: Extreme Cold – A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety