The recent cold snap in the South West has made our local builders stop and think about the effect of the cold on our workforce and think about what we can do to lessen the effects of working in the cold weather, particularly outside.
Cold weather can cause several health issues for building workers, including hypothermia, which can be caused by working outside in cold weather for long periods of time, experiencing cold and wet conditions for long periods of time or becoming soaked in cold water. The risks of hypothermia are increased if the worker is tired, hungry or dehydrated.
Frostbite is caused when exposed body parts freeze. It normally affects extremities such as the nose, feet, hands and ears. The risk of frostbite is increased by leaving body parts exposed to cold weather, working with cold metal, wearing tight clothing or footwear or working with cold liquids.
Surprisingly, cold working in cold weather can create the risk of dehydration. Cold air is very dry and promotes loss of moisture, through breathing and sweating. Dehydration can also increase the risk of hypothermia.
Also known as trench foot, this conditions occurs when the feet are immersed in cold water or mud for long periods of time and/or the feet sweat excessively in non-breathable footwear (e.g., rubber boots).
All of these conditions can affect builders during the winter months, if the temperature drops sufficiently. However, there are precautions that employers and employees can take to prevent them from occurring.
What The Employer Can Do
Allow regular rest breaks and a warm place to take those breaks
Try to to minimise sweating by setting a slow and steady work schedule
Ensure the employees are kept hydrated by providing water
Ensure that the employees are aware of the risks involved in working in cold weather
What The Employee Can Do
Dress sensibly, using several layers of clothing to keep the body heat in
Wear a hat to further reduce heat loss
If the type of work permits, wear mittens rather than gloves
Keep your clothes and feet dry. If they get wet, change your clothing and/or footwear
Drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration
Eat nutritious meals
Desist from or reduce smoking, which can also have a dehydrating effect
Following these easy rules will ensure that when the really cold temperatures hit the South West builders we will be ready, willing and able to carry on working in comfort and safety.