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Working in the cold

Working in the cold

When working outside in cold conditions, employees and employer must take precautions to ensure the health & safety of workers and maintenance of tools.

The cold conditions can result in multiple cold injuries with the body parts with the highest risk being toes, fingers, ears and nose, due to not having a major muscle to produce heat. Conditions including:

Chilblain Redness, swelling, tingling and pain

Frostnip this occurs when the top layers of skin freezes resulting in the skin turning white, numb and hard, however deeper tissue feels normal.

Frostbite Symptoms include inflammation of the skin in patches which can cause slight pain. This occurs when tissue temperatures fall below freezing point or blood flow has been obstructed.

Frost Bite can become severe with symptoms changing to prickling sensations that result in blisters, this could occur with no pain but tissue damage visible

Trenchfoot Caused by prolonged wet or cold feet, symptoms could include tingling, numbness, itching, pain, swelling and blisters.

Hypothermia is the most SEVERE cold injury, it can be fatal. If you suspect a worker has hypothermia you must move the worker to a heated sheltered area and seek medical advice. Signs include nausea, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, euphoria, severe shivering and pain in the hands, feet and ears.

In addition to working in cold temperatures can lead to a lowering of the body temperature resulting in reduced concentration, tiredness and an increased risk of accidents.
Working in cold conditions can also increase the risk of developing vibration white finger, back and other muscular injuries.

Workers must maintain a core body temperature of 37oC to ensure normal body functioning.

Steps Employers can take to reduce workers experiencing cold injuries:

  • Monitor temperature
  • Where possible choose equipment that can be used with gloves
  • Train employees on symptom, safe working practices, re-warming procedures and what to do if a cold injury occurs.
  • Ensure workers know the correct clothing in cold weather, employers should ensure that the correct clothing or provide them for workers. Correct clothing includes hats and gloves protective clothing must be waterproof and ‘breathable’, manual work can produce sweat contributing to rapid cooling of body temperature
  • There is a warm sheltered area where workers can warm up and encourage workers to have warm fluids such as soup or hot drinks
  • Workers should not work alone when possible