When the temperatures head southward it’s time to think about protecting yourself and your team from the elements.
Winter weather can lead to more injuries as the cold affects decision-making and leads to fatigue.
This can lead to people taking shortcuts to finish the job to get back where it’s warm, and this, in turn, can cause injuries or damage to plant and equipment as their judgement is affected.
Christchurch Site Safe safety advisor Trudy Hodge knows all about working in chilly conditions.
Canterbury can have some tough, frosty mornings, and Ms Hodge says warming up before getting into any hard yakka is always useful in avoiding cold-start injuries.
She says starting with one of the easier jobs of the day is a productive way to warm up.
“Stretching and moving the body’s mechanical workings before digging and lifting is always a good idea,” she says.
Even moderately cold temperatures can increase the risk of workplace incidents as the cold reduces manual dexterity, fingertip sensitivity and muscle strength.
People working outside should try to eliminate or, at best, minimise cold hazards.
Consider the following controls when working in the elements:
Food, shelter and well-being
• Food and liquid intake are essential to maintain body heat and prevent dehydration, particularly as the body is working harder in cold conditions.
• WorkSafe says if continuous work is carried out in sub-zero temperatures, heated shelters such as cabins or smoko rooms should be available.
• A strict timetable for breaks should be put in place to allow employees to warm up and change clothes if needed.
• Always have a hot brew on hand. Tea, coffee, Milo or a herbal tea will keep that core temperature up.
• Workers and supervisors should be trained to recognise the symptoms of cold exposure, such as hypothermia. Having a trained first aid person is also highly recommended.
• Employees should be informed about personal protective equipment, safe work practices and emergency procedures in case of injury. While working in the cold, a buddy system should be used to look out for one another.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
• Clothing should be worn in multiple layers. The bottom layer can be a range of materials, including polypropylene, polyester or wool.
• The outer layer should be hi-vis, rain and wind-proof, and allow for easy opening and removal.
Ms Hodge says with layering it is vital to get the base layer next to the skin right for each individual.
“Good thermals that draw the sweat away from the body are a godsend. There are many brands on the market but, remember, you get what you pay for.”
If you’ve got the dosh, merino is excellent for warmth and keeping the skin dry. It has the bonus, for the extra hard-working people, of being low on the odour scale, which is never a bad thing in the smoko room.
Exposed areas such as the head, hands and feet are just as important as the body. Gloves are an obvious option; however, these can become bulky and affect a worker’s manual handling, so a better option is to provide warm air blowers or insulated handles on tools.
Buy footwear that is well padded, insulated and made from materials such as leather, which allows the shoes to breathe.
A great deal of heat is also lost through the head, a problem compounded by the fact that hard hats don’t provide protection against the cold.
If a hard hat is necessary, wear a tightly fitted beanie made of polypropylene or merino underneath.
• The risk of cold injury can be minimised by equipment choice and design. Plant, equipment and tools should be designed so that they can be operated without having to remove items of PPE.
• The more complex or fiddly the activity, the greater the likelihood that PPE will be discarded during the process, which leads to increased risk.
• To avoid harsh winter conditions, plan work that is appropriate to the weather. Check weather reports before planning your jobs, so that outside tasks can be done on the best possible day.
• If you cannot be adequately protected from the effects of the cold, then work must be suspended or rescheduled to remove the risk of harm.
• Following these steps will ensure that winter does not slow you down and everyone stays productive, happy and keen.
More than just being drowsy, fatigue is a state of exhaustion, either mental, physical or both. Signs of it in many people are irritability, being disengaged, slurred speech, clumsiness and forgetfulness.
Ways to counter it include:
• Having more breaks than normal if the work is demanding and the conditions are hard.
• Drink water, not sugary drinks which can dehydrate you.
• Always make sure there is suitable shelter.
For more information visit www.sitesafe.org.nz.