5 Cold Weather Safety Tips in the Workplace

Occupational Health and Safety Training Ontario

5 Cold Weather Safety Tips in the Workplace

December 16, 2021
5 Cold Weather Safety Tips in the Workplace main image1

Working construction during winter conditions should signal your supervisor to hold a cold weather safety tips in the workplace toolbox talk. Winter weather brings cold stress, meaning hypothermia and frost bite. Beyond that, physical dangers exists on the job site including unstable building structures due to snow pile up, snow covered skylights, and unmarked hazards without proper guardrails or warnings. Cold air challenges workers lungs because of air temperature, the wind speed, and humidity level. To work safely, these challenges have to be planned for, prevented, reported, and stopped. This can be done by making sure all hazards are marked, workers are wearing appropriate layer protected clothing, and implementing a work/rest schedule for all on the job site. Read on to find out more about what construction teams can do to prevent cold stress and winter injury.

Tip One: Watch out for Cold Stress

When skin temperature is continuously exposed to cold winter weather including wind chill, it gets cold, and eventually so does your internal body temperature. If the body becomes unable to warm itself, hypothermia, trench foot, and frost bite can occur. Blood vessels within the skin, arms, and legs construction and decrease the blood flow to everything else. This helps your critical organs stay warm, but frost bite could occur as a result. This is cold stress, and can be serious if left unnoticed or unreported.


Hypothermia is the result of your body temperature dropping. It is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can create heat. This creates a low body temperature, and it only takes your body dropping from 98.6°F/36°C to less than 95°F/ 35°C. This happening over any period of time will use up the body’s stored energy and hypothermia takes over. Conditions are worsened if the person is sweating, if it is raining, or if they become submerged into water.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
Symptoms of hypothermia can include:
1) Uncontrollable shivering or no shivering at all
2) Confusion
3) Slurred speech
4) Poor body coordination
5) Slow breathing
6) Slowed heart rate
7) Blue lips and fingers
8) Unconsciousness
9) Loss of consciousness
It is important to remember that brain damage can occur from hypothermia, making it extra dangerous because the person who is suffering from it cannot make informed decisions about their well being and will feel confused or become unconscious. It is important to watch for these signs in your co-workers and keep an eye out for everyone on your team.

Hypothermia Treatment Options On The Job Site

Notify your Joint Health and Safety representative or your supervisor immediately of any illness or injury, as everything must be logged in case an investigation needs to occur. The health and safety policy on-site should include what to do in this case of hypothermia cold stress, with instructions to follow. If you need an updated health and safety policy binder, Safety First Consulting can provide you with one customized to your company, just reach out to us here. These are the steps to follow when hypothermia hits:
• Call 911
• Gently move worker to a warm and dry area, but do not reheat too quickly
• Remove wet clothes and put on dry clothes
• Wrap the entire body including head and neck in layers of blankets and put a barrier over like a plastic bag/cover for a vapor barrier. Do not cover the face!
• Keep awake
• Use hot water bottles or anything warm against their neck, arm pits, and chest
• Give warm sweet drinks to help increase body temperature if they are conscious

Always monitor the worker’s breathing and heart rate while waiting for professional medical attention. CPR could be needed if hypothermia is out of control.

Frost Bite

Frost bite means that the flesh has been frozen. It starts out as frostnip and the skin becomes red first and cold, then it becomes tingly and numb. Usually frost bite affects your fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Blood vessels are damaged and the reduced blood flow can lead to gangrene. Frost bitten skin looks waxy and feels numb. Once tissue becomes hard, it becomes a medical emergency. Getting treatment for frost bite means:

• Locating your JHSC representative or a supervisor and receiving medical aid from them or from 911
• Warm the frozen area up with body heat ( DO NOT RUB SKIN)
• Do not warm up skin quickly, warm up gradually while waiting for medical assistance
• If using water, do not use water over the temperature of 105˚F (40˚C)

Most of the time, frost bite is manageable and can be recovered from, but other times it can be serious and cause permanent tissue damage.

Tip Two: Good Housekeeping Skills During Winter Construction

On a construction site, snow falls and covers hazards or even builds up so much weight on a roof that the building’s structure becomes a hazard. This is why housekeeping is always a priority, as are safety talks, and hazard identification. Before work starts, there should be an extensive clearing and de-icing of all areas where employees will be working. Making sure the following is done should decrease the amount of winter construction job site accidents:

• Use de-icing products and routines
• Check maximum load limits of roofs, decks, and flooring and add snow weight, worker weights, and equipment weights to that equation
• Mark all skylights and fall hazards using guard rails or warning signs
• Clear all building roofs and surrounding working areas of snow and ice routinely
• Watch for strong wind and extreme weather warnings and cancel work that day
• Use winter tires on all vehicles
• Ensure everyone uses ladders and other equipment safely
• Make sure everyone has working at heights safety training

This winter construction safety precaution may be an ongoing daily hourly task depending on weather conditions, but it is necessary. Keeping the work area clean and safe is the main priority, as is working safely, and keeping an eye out for one another.

Tip Three: Utilize health and safety policies, JHSC, and Safety Talks

Your site should have a health and safety policy binder that touches on frost bite and hypothermia, it’s a good idea to know where it is and understand the procedure if any cold stress happens. Other hazards occur too such as slips and falls, and even carbon monoxide poisoning from blocked vents.

Weekly or daily safety talks from your supervisor is highly recommended, because it promoted knowledge of hazards on the site, and give an opportunity for workers to ask questions and receive clarification on safety during winter conditions.

All workers should be on the same page about:

• What is appropriate to wear
• What to do to prevent the cold stress
• How often workers should take breaks and where
• What to do if cold stress happens
• How to look out for each other

The health and safety policies should be updated yearly and reviewed and signed by everyone as new people are added to the team. Joint health and safety committees need to be on the look out for hazards too and identify them to workers.

With temperatures dipping well below freezing, many workers try to keep themselves warm with gasoline, propane, or diesel-fuelled heaters. They often keep warehouse and garage doors closed to keep the cold out, which also keeps exhaust in. While staying warm may prevent frostbite and hypothermia, the carbon monoxide in the exhaust from heaters, vehicles, and other fuel-burning equipment can be deadly. The first signs of poisoning are fatigue and headache, which can be followed by unconsciousness and heart failure.

Tip Four: Use cold-weather PPE

Construction sites have strict guidelines on using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while on the job. The equipment includes an assortment of hard hats, boots, safety glasses, gloves, and high-visibility vests. Along with the essential PPE, employees should add to their safety gear when working in winter conditions such as:

• Wearing several layers of clothing that are sweat wicking
• Avoiding wearing just one thick layer
• Wear waterproof and wind resistant outer layer
• Use hats, hoods, and balaclavas
• Avoid tight socks, wear thick socks or two layers of thin socks
• If clothing becomes wet at 2 degrees Celsius or less, immediately change into dry clothes and get checked for hypothermia
• If you become hot while working, open your jacket but keeping everything on
• Consume warm high calorie drinks and food throughout the work day

When working in the cold, dress in extra layers of clothing like thermal undergarments and thick jackets. If you use fall protection, make sure it is securely adjusted for this extra, bulky clothing. While construction work requires enough dexterity to maneuver tools, get nimble gloves to keep your hands and fingers warm. Plus, wear extra socks inside work boots to keep your feet warm.

You may need to have rain gear and waterproof boots to keep you dry during snowy conditions. Also, bring extra clothing ( especially socks) in case you get wet.

Tip Five: Shelter and Worker Rest Schedules

An essential cold-weather construction safety tip is to minimize exposure to freezing temperatures. There are various techniques you can implement on a construction site. For instance, wind barriers can be erected to keep materials dryer and warmer. You can also rotate workers from outside to inside throughout the day. The goal is to avoid having anyone exposed to the cold elements for their whole shift.

Another cold weather safety tip in the workplace is to set up a heated lunch area with information about cold stress posted where visible to workers. A heated lunch area allows the workers to get out of the elements and warm up during breaks before going outside again. Heated restrooms when possible, as according to O. Reg. 213/91 should also be provided. Have some hot drinks for the employees to take off the chill. Cozy warm beverages will lift the morale despite working in winter conditions.

Also, watch out for overexposure and allow workers to take a break if necessary. Internal body temperatures can fall fast in winter conditions. You must be alert to the potential signs of frostbite and hypothermia, acting promptly before the symptoms worsen. So check in with everyone, and make sure that everyone is completing a break according to how cold it is (Please use the above image as reference).

5 Cold Weather Safety Tips in the Workplace Conclusion

Working during the winter time is dangerous and cold stress can come on suddenly, as can physical dangers that exist but are covered by snow and ice. Knowing the signs of cold stress which includes hypothermia, frost bite, and trench foot will save your life and that of your colleagues. If skin is becoming red and cold, this is the warning sign of frost bite. Beyond that if skin becomes wax like and feels like pins and needles, frost bite has kicked in and medical attention is probably required. Always seek out the advice of your JHSC (Joint Health and Safety Committee), your site supervisor, and your co-workers when you become ill or injured. The procedures that are in place on a construction site will determine the prevention or outcome of an injury, which is why it is important to identify all hazards on the job site and to remove them. Keeping the site free of snow and ice is preferred using safe control measures. Dress for the weather, remember your sweat wicking fabrics and layers, and take breaks within a temperature-controlled room often according to how cold the weather is (i.e. Every 15-20 minutes in some cases.)

Working safely is our priority here at Safety First Consulting, if you would like us to come on site and see what health and safety improvement we would recommend, call us or send us an e-mail. If you need an updated health and safety policy or any safety signs for your company, please contact us here as well. If you require any safety training this winter, please ask us what you could need or explore our online training options here:

Carbon Monoxide Training
Electrical Safety Awareness
Hazard and Risk Management
Red Cross Standard First Aid & CPR
Ladder Training
Health and Safety Awareness for Workers or Health and Safety Awareness for Supervisors