A distinction is made between temperature and perceived temperature: if the wind is blowing harder, it feels colder, so the perceived temperature is calculated on the basis of temperature and wind speed.
In every outside work situation, cold circumstances occur: Typical examples are construction sites and roadwork. Precipitation, like rain and sleet make things even worse. In addition, they provide extra risks: slipperiness. But things can be more extreme still: At sea or on the coast, there is more wind and more moisture, usually making things a lot colder and protection against the cold even more essential.
Sometimes, there are cold circumstances inside as well: cooling cells and freezing warehouses, where temperatures are kept artificially low, but also rooms with a lot of draft, like construction halls where large doors are open.
At temperatures below 0° c, vulnerable body parts (nose, fingers and ears) can get frozen, which can be so serious that the limb dies off.
In addition, there is a risk of hypothermia. A healthy body temperature lies between 35.5° C and 37.8° C. Officially, hypothermia occurs when the body temperature gets below 35° C. The situation becomes critical below 32° C, when the metabolism is in danger1. Usually, death sets in at 24° C.
Although getting cold is usually not a direct consequence of cold circumstances, the body’s resistance is reduced because less blood goes to the mucous membranes. In addition, your body has to work harder to stay warm, so getting a cold is a possible consequence, which is also true of other infections.
The Health and Safety Law does not provide concrete indications, other than stipulating that the employers has to implement policy to keep working conditions at an optimum2. In addition, the employer is responsible for making an inventory of the risks associated with the work2.
The Health and Safety Decision (6.1) is a little more specific, but even here, the text is limited to stating that the temperature in combination with the activities may not cause damage to people’s health5.
The measures vary per sector. In the Health and Safety catalogue for your sector, you will find guidelines about how to deal with weather conditions. In some sectors, there are short leave arrangements, while in other sectors, people cannot work in poor visibility because certain lanes cannot be opened (road construction). So it is important to stay informed about those agreements, but also to know which tools you have at your disposal.
How do you deal with a source of risk?
An employer first has to remove the cause of the problem. The most well-known example is ‘frost leave’, where employees do not have to enter the construction site if the perceived temperature gets below -6° C6. Other employees try to keep employees working indoors.
In addition, it is also possible to take measures to increase the temperature in the workplace. Preventing draft is the most effective, in the form of insulation or door closers, which are used to insulate the working environment. Also, the workplace can be heated. Admittedly, those measures are especially suitable for closed working environment.
What are collective measures?
Sometimes, the temperature cannot be increased. And in other situations, for instance freezing warehouses, temperatures have to be kept low, although in those places, machines may be able to take over the procedural activities.
In addition, certain activities can be planned in such a way that they are carried out on warmer moments. Or in warmer locations. For instance in the case of prefabrication, where most of the work is done in advance.
Collective measures also include organizational measures like:
- A good work preparation: by planning everything efficiently, employees are exposed to the cold as little as possible.
- Alternating work, which limits exposure. Additional breaks or a cup of soup at given times to warm up the hands in the warm shelter of the cantina or shed.
What are individual measures?
In these circumstances, individual measures are usually the same as personal protective gear. See below.
Which Personal Protective Equipment can be used?
- Outerwear (heavy-duty coat and pants)
- Cap. When helmets are mandatory, helmet caps are available.
- Gloves that are also waterproof.
- Shoes that are waterproof. Make sure that they are high enough, and in wintery conditions, grip is also an important factor.
- Socks: Good socks not only provide insulation, but also ventilation.
- Neck-cover: to make sure that the space around your neck is insulated. It is a safe alternative for a shawl, which can get stuck behind (moving) objects.
Voor extreme koude:
- Overgloves: like the 3-layer system, sometimes a wind- and waterproof layer is needed. Overgloves have rough material on the palm and fingers to maintain grip.
- Balaklava: a special cap that covers the entire head and only leaves the face uncovered.
- Ski-goggles: ski-goggles cover the face and protect the eyes from wind chill. In addition, the sun can be blinding, especially in a white landscape.
- Protection against UV light prevents snow-blindness.
People wear clothes to protect themselves against the cold. In addition to the measures listed above, it makes sense to match the clothes to the circumstances. In the case of insulation, we like working with the tried and tested 3-layer system:
1. Thermo-layer: This layer absorbs and discards perspiration. This is necessary because the aim of perspiration is to cool the body. The thermos-layer keeps people from cooling off because of their sweat. Especially in winter, this is an important aspect of clothing.
2. Insulation layer: This can be achieved with a sweater or with a coat, which hold air and therefore warmth, keeping people warm.
3. Wind- and waterproof layer: Wind and water affect the perceived temperature, so it is important to keep them out. Make sure that this layer ventilates, otherwise the (rain)coat becomes wet from the inside.
Advise employees to protect vulnerable body parts, like nose, ears, face, toes and fingertips. It is also important to maintain the energy level, so eating and drinking are essential!
Keep an eye on each other. In all risks, social control is important, but when it comes to freezing, it requires extra attention7. As a result of the cold, people tend to feel pain less, which means they can injure themselves without noticing. So, especially under extreme circumstances, it is important to regularly check the color of each other’s faces.
In addition to awareness, we see that comfort also plays a role. People sometimes choose not to wear PPG because of the extra weight or reduced movement. So it is understandable that people don’t wear sweaty overalls or thick gloves. Selecting a more comfortable PPG can mitigate that resistance. Time and again, it turns out that involving employees is the key to success.
How can you determine hypothermia?
- A low body temperature. A good temperature measurement is the only reliable symptom.
- At first, the victim starts shivering. With severe hypothermia (more than a few degrees) the victim stops shivering.
- Slowness and drowsiness.
- A slow heartbeat and slow breathing.
- Sleepiness – sometimes confused with drunkenness – can develop into a coma.
- Pale skin.
Our PPG advisors have contributed to work safety in very diverse environments. They keep a close watch on the relevant legislation and regulations. In addition, they pay attention to the latest developments in the market. Technological developments make clothes more efficient and more comfortable, for instance the multi-layer softshell jacks, in which several layers are combined within one product.
In addition, work clothes offer opportunities in terms of your brand, for instance company style colors, printing and logos. For more information, we refer you to our article about ‘work clothes’.