Cold Weather Health and Safety
At this time of year, with temperatures plummeting in certain areas of the country, it’s time to give some thought to working safely in cold conditions. It is important to recognise that low ambient temperatures, especially those experienced early in the morning, can have a significant impact on workers’ ability to perform tasks requiring fine motor skills and heavy equipment operation. In addition to cold weather environments, precautions also need to be taken for workers at anytime of year who are required to work in refrigerated or cool room environments for long periods of time.
This article looks at what safety measures need to be taken in cold temperatures, and when exactly the mercury is low enough to enact them.
Developing and implementing a Cold Weather Policy is one example of a safety measure a business may take operating in cold environments. The aim of any Cold Weather Policy is to preserve the ‘thermal comfort’ of employees. Thermal comfort refers to climactic conditions in which workers feel comfortable, and have full control of their body and movements. Workers’ thermal comfort will depend on the environment in which they operate, the skills they need to perform as part of their job, and the type of equipment they operate.
The first step is become aware of what temperatures you are likely to work in. Once you know this, you can plan with your employees and determine what equipment is needed.
The next step is to check the temperature ranges in which your equipment is capable of operating. Equipment, especially items powered by fuel, may not be designed to operate in conditions below 5°C. At such temperatures, there is a risk of fuel freezing inside the motor, which may cause significantly reduced performance, frequent stalling, and even significant damage to internal components, which can be difficult and expensive to fix. Similarly, electronics may not be sufficiently insulated to operate in low temperatures (just like your mobile phone). Additionally, the materials the equipment is made of may not be capable of withstanding the temperature differential between cold ambient conditions and the heat generated by motor. Always operate equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidance. If in doubt, allow equipment to warm up for a few minutes before beginning use.
During winter, it may be necessary to operate machinery in shorter bursts and perform greater levels of maintenance to avoid extra strain on the machine, and consumables such as cutting blades.
After the equipment is taken care of, it’s time to consider your most important asset – your employees. Clothing is the most important consideration. Employees should dress is a manner that is comfortable for them, and allows them a full range of movement to perform their task. In addition to standard warm clothing, workers need footwear that is both warm and provides sufficient traction on surfaces that may be slippery in low temperatures. This is especially important if the work area is prone to frost. Warm gloves should be worn at all times to ensure workers can use their full range of motor skills, especially when operating machinery. Work should not begin until employees are confident that they can operate equipment safely.
Although warmth should be the first priority, it is necessary to be mindful whether bulkier clothing will interfere with the task being performed. It must be ensured that parts or articles of clothing don’t hang loosely off employees, as they may get caught in machinery, endangering the worker. Hazards to watch for include loose-fitting jackets and scarves. Similarly, if operating motorised equipment, workers need to ensure that bulky or loose articles of clothing don’t block air intakes. Air starvation may damage the equipment’s motor, and pose a fire hazard to both the machine and the operator. Finally, if temperatures are low enough to require gloves, work gloves should always be worn as the top layer, with warmer gloves worn underneath if necessary. Cotton and cotton-like do not provide the same level of grip as work gloves, and will therefore usually be unsuitable for operating equipment.
Cold weather precautions should be exercised in ambient temperatures below 10°C, or in warmer temperatures, if they are noticeably below those usually experienced. Manufacturers’ cold weather guidelines usually apply to temperatures below 40°F/4.5°C. It is essential to consider other climactic factors, such as wind chill and icing. Equipment must not be used if ice is visible on the surface of the machine, or is apparent when the machine is started.
It is difficult to be motivated in cold, early mornings, but a few extra precautions are essential to ensure that work can commence safely. If you need assistance with assessing the weather-related risks in your business, Sync or Swim can help!
Article by: David Kehoe, Business Development and Compliance Consultant