Working outdoors in winter: the cold, hard facts

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half of all jobs in the country involve some degree of outdoor work. When winter blows in, it becomes even more critical to take steps to keep those employees safe.

Understanding cold stress

The negative effects of prolonged exposure to cold can take on several forms. These conditions — sometimes collectively referred to as “cold stress” — can be exacerbated for workers who perform physical tasks outdoors, as the body has to work harder to stay warm.

Here’s what to watch for1. If you have a worker exhibiting any of these symptoms, get them out of the cold immediately.

  • Hypothermia – This occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees. One of the early signs of hypothermia is shivering, so it’s important to note when employees begin to show this symptom. Encourage outdoor workers to keep an eye on one another, as hypothermia is easier to reverse when detected early. These workers should be taken indoors and giving a hot meal or drink to increase body temperature. In more severe cases, a doctor should be called.
  • Frostbite – Tell-tale signs include redness, pain, numbness, a gray-yellow color to the skin, or an unusually “waxy” feel. In the event of frostbite, gently warm the affected area with warm (and not hot) water, until its appearance becomes closer to normal.2
  • Trench foot or “immersion foot” – This can take the form of redness, pain, tingling, cramps, blisters and numbness due the prolonged wetness, especially when combined with the cold. Remove any wet clothing, and, as with frostbite, treat the affected areas with warm water. 3

A toast to your health

Hydration and warm liquids are both vital to helping the body keep warm when core temperature begins to drop. However, both caffeine and alcohol should be avoided.1

Don’t brrr-ave the wind

One of the biggest hazards of winter weather is the wind, and if the temperature is low enough, even a slight breeze can make prolonged exposure dangerous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides a printable chart outlining recommended scheduling for outdoor workers, including warm-up times, shift lengths and frequency of breaks.

Dress the part

Make sure non-uniformed workers are making responsible clothing choices when they head out in the cold. These include:

  • Avoiding cotton clothing, which doesn’t retain heat as well as some other fabrics. Thermal wear, wool and “moisture-wicking” material are effective alternatives.
  • Wearing loose clothing, in layers, which leads to increased insulation and circulation. Plus, layers can easily be removed when a worker gets too warm.
  • Removing wet clothing immediately. One statistic shows that the body loses heat five times faster through wet clothing.4

Don’t slip up

Exposure isn’t the only hazard presented by winter conditions. In fact, slips, trips and falls are among the most common workers’ compensation claims — in the winter, and all year round — comprising roughly 25% of such claims.5 Additionally, more than 80% of these claims result from falls that don’t involve heights.6 There are many preventative measures — some common sense, some lesser known — that can help you avoid these sorts of claims.

Don’t get left out in the cold

Having the right protection applies not just to clothing, but also to insurance. The Hanover offers expertise and resources that can help keep your outdoor staff safe in the winter months. Also, talk to your independent insurance agent to see how The Hanover’s workers' compensation coverage can form part of a total insurance solution for your business.

2. Mayo Clinic
3. Center for Disease Control
4. Princeton University
5. OSHA Slips, Trips & Falls: Identification & Prevention
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you.The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC Jan 2019-01