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Cold-Weather Safety for Drywall and Construction Workers

Work doesn’t stop when the temperature drops. We, at GMS, cannot stress enough the importance of cold-weather safety procedures, proper clothing, equipment and supplies at construction sites during the winter months.

Factors that can increase the chances of jobsite incidents involving cold-weather stress include exposure to moisture from snow removal and water pipes, wind chill at exposed jobsites, pre-existing worker health conditions, or improper work gear and clothing.

Jobsite Weather Risks

Cold weather brings with it some specific health issues, including hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees F (normal is 98.6). CPR may be necessary if the victim stops breathing. Make sure crewmembers know how to handle hypothermia:

  • Watch for uncontrollable shivering and the “umbles” (stumbles, grumbles, mumbles and bumbles), which indicate that the brain is affected.
  • Remove wet clothing, keep the victim warm and dry, and call emergency services.

Frostbite involves freezing of the skin and underlying tissues caused by overexposure to cold temperatures. Crew members should:

  • Watch for red, white, waxy skin, numbness or tingling/stinging sensations, which mean that tissue is beginning to freeze.
  • Cover frostbite wounds loosely and keep them dry. Do not attempt to warm or rub the area! Call 911 – A condition of this nature calls for immediate medical assistance.

Dehydration, usually considered a summer problem, also can affect workers in winter. People who don’t feel hot or thirsty can easily forget to drink sufficient fluids. Everyone on the crew should be aware of the symptoms of dehydration, which include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased urine output
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Weather Safety for Workers

Scheduling shifts during the warmest part of the day reduces the physical demands on workers and helps them be more efficient.

Workers need to follow some basic guidelines as well:

  • Pay careful attention to cold-weather ratings when buying clothing and protective gear.
  • Make sure clothing is safe to wear around a construction site. Avoid loose fabric that could get caught in machines and make sure clothing isn’t so tight it cuts off circulation.
  • Wear several layers of clothing, as well as head and ear protection and insulated, waterproof work boots.
  • Use anti-fog coatings on eye protection, a valuable item of personal protection equipment.
  • Drink warm, sweet drinks without caffeine or alcohol, and lean toward warm, high-calorie foods such as pasta for lunch or breaks.
  • Take frequent breaks in warm, indoor areas to avoid hypothermia.
  • Get an annual flu shot.

Gear Up For Cold Weather

Workwear is extremely important in cold weather. Look for quality items specifically designed to keep you warm for extended periods of time.

  • Shirts/undershirts are normally pretty flimsy. Consider a synthetic polyester T-shirt that wicks moisture away from your skin.
  • Jackets will keep you alive in cold weather. Look for a brightly colored, high visibility, insulated jacket rated to keep the wearer warm in extremely low temperatures (as low as -50 degrees F in most cases).
  • Socks are nearly as important as the jacket, and the wrong ones could put you in danger of frostbite or trench foot. Look for thermal work socks that keep heat from escaping. If you wear multiple layers, make sure the outer sock is larger to avoid cutting off circulation in your feet.
  • Boots should be insulated, waterproof and comfortable enough to wear all day. Rubber boots are a good way to go because they are extremely durable and warm.
  • Head and ear protection can easily be combined into a lined, insulated hood that serves both purposes.
  • Gloves should keep your hands warm and be flexible enough to let you grasp objects. Insulated work gloves should also be waterproof and windproof.
  • Hand warmers, readily available in the winter, can help you make the most of your breaks.

Tool-Related Weather Risks

Keep low temperatures in mind when choosing tools and toolboxes:

  • If you wear gloves or mittens at work, remember that small, intricate tools may be difficult to use.
  • Powered construction tools, such as a drywall saw, can be affected by the weather. Refer to the manufacturers’ handbooks for information about when to use cold-weather anti-freeze oil and how long to wait before starting the tool after you move it out into the cold. If you start it too fast, frost can form on the machine parts and cause it to stop working.
  • Use all-weather, vinyl extension cords rated for use in extremely low temperatures. Regular extension cords are not suitable for low temperatures and may split, crack or short out.
  • Storage boxes for tools should be resistant to water/moisture and debris. Make sure that you let tools warm up, especially those that require oil and grease to work properly. For more detailed information, visit Cold-Weather Tool Tips.

For additional information, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers a very detailed cold-weather stress guide.

Many construction safety items are available at your local GMS yard where interior building materials are sold. If you are in the Colorado or Wyoming area look up Pioneer Materials West; in Massachusetts, Robert N. Karpp Building Materials; and in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa or the Dakotas, Tamarack Materials.

Comment below and let us know what you do on the jobsite to keep your employees safe and warm in the winter.

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