Two workers wearing reflective gear are in a trench outside in the snow repairing a damaged water pipe.
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7 tips for working in cold weather

When the temperature drops and snow piles up, trade professionals working outdoors know that the job still has to get done. But staying safe is critical if you want to keep your crew safe and productive on the job.

Learn about cold weather safety tips to prepare your team for working in the cold.

7 cold weather safety tips for contractors

Working in cold weather for hours at a time can be hazardous to you and your crew because of the threat of cold-related illnesses. Fortunately, you can minimize the health risks associated with winter weather by exercising caution when working in the cold.

Follow these seven tips for working in cold weather to keep you and your crew safe this winter.

1. Work in pairs.

One of the most important of all cold weather safety tips is making sure to always work in pairs.

Symptoms of hypothermia are subtle at first, but they can quickly become serious. Prior to hypothermia setting in, you may notice the symptoms of cold stress.

Make sure your crew works in teams of at least two people to help spot the early signs of hypothermia, such as intense shivering and confusion, and address them before they become life-threatening.

Early signs of cold stress or hypothermia

  • Fatigue

  • Shivering

  • Confusion

  • Disorientation

Late signs of cold stress or hypothermia

  • Shivering stops

  • A bluish tint to the skin

  • Breathing and pulse slow down

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Dilated pupils

Pro tip: Equip your crew with two-way radios to call for help in the event of an emergency.

2. Protect your eyes.

Snow reflects over 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Exposure to light this bright can cause snow blindness, which is a painful sunburn of the cornea that can leave you temporarily blind for up to 72 hours.

You can prevent snow blindness simply by wearing eye glasses with tinted lenses that block UV rays.

Pro tip: See how to choose the right safety glasses for the job.

3. Insulate your extremities.

Working outdoors in frigid temperatures decreases circulation to the outer limbs of the body, such as fingers and toes.

Wear protective apparel like gloves and water-resistant boots to keep your extremities warm and dry while you are working in cold weather. This will prevent serious conditions like frostbite and trench foot.

Read clothing labels: Your body uses more energy to stay warm if your skin is wet. Choose a base layer of clothing made from moisture-wicking fabric, such as cotton or wool, to keep sweat from freezing.

Layer on jackets and coveralls that are labeled water-resistant to help you stay dry when snow and sleet starts to fall. Wearing plenty of layers can be important when you’re working in a cold warehouse as well.

Pro tip: Wear a heated hoodie beneath your water-resistant outer layer to keep your body warm from the core.

4. Shovel with care.

Shoveling snow can increase the risk of heart attack, especially in older individuals or those with certain health conditions. Begin shoveling right after snow stops falling since it will be lighter than snow that has time to freeze over.

Stop shoveling immediately if you begin to feel light-headed or pain in your chest.

Choosing your shovel: Using a snow shovel with a pan that is too large can lead to overexertion. Instead, pick a snow shovel that is proportional to your body size. The shape and material of the grip on the handle can also help to make one shovel more comfortable to hold than another.

5. Take a break.

Another way to prevent cold-related illnesses or injuries is to simply take a break from working in the cold. Rest in warm areas at regular intervals, such as in your work van with the heat on.

During that break time, make sure to drink warm beverages and refuel your body with a hot, high-calorie meal while giving your body a chance to warm up.

Make a habit of checking the daily weather advisory and schedule additional breaks for especially cold, icy and snowy days.

Pro tip: Get tips to organize your work van and make room for additional cold weather supplies.

6. Wash your hands.

Working in cold weather can weaken the body’s immune system, making it easier for you and your crew to get sick on the job. This can lead to lost productivity due to time off work. Keep hand cleaners like sanitizers and disinfecting wipes on the job and use them regularly to prevent the spread of illnesses.

7. Create a cold weather emergency kit.

These tips for working in cold weather will enhance occupational safety but issues can still occur. Keep a cold weather emergency kit in your truck with essentials that will help you treat any issues immediately. This kit should include:

  • LED flashlights

  • Warm blankets

  • Warm weather hat & gloves

  • Candles in an empty can for warmth and matches to light them

  • Charcoal-activated heat packs

  • First aid kit

  • Kitty litter or safety absorbent to spread on the ground for added traction

  • Phone charger cable or backup battery pack

Every vehicle should be equipped and carry tire chains to help ensure you’re able to drive your work vehicle in snowy and icy conditions. Jumper cables and a portable air compressor are also good to have on hand in case of emergency vehicle trouble.

Also, keep a pad of paper and pencil in the kit so you can write down any important information, such as tow truck numbers or additional contact information passed along from the dispatcher after reporting the trouble.

A cold weather emergency kit doesn’t need to take up very much room in your crew’s vehicles, but it could have a big impact when they are stuck in winter working conditions.

Partner with Ferguson for cold weather safety

See what makes the trusted source of safety gear and cold weather supplies for trade professionals. Shop winter prep supplies to find everything you need to keep yourself and your crew safe this winter.