A Guide to Winter Working

11/12/2015

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Workplace temperatures are governed by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. Employers are responsible for ensuring that work conditions are at a reasonable temperature.

The are many health risks that come with working in cold temperatures which need to be avoided at all costs. These include:

  • Non freezing injuries
  • Freezing injuries
  • Chilblains
  • Hypothermia
  • Frostbite/Frostnip

Uncomfortable cold working conditions can lead to lower work efficiency and higher accident rates. Cold impairs the performance of complex mental tasks and manual tasks are impaired because the sensitivity and dexterity of fingers is reduced. At even lower temperatures, the cold affects the deeper muscles resulting in reduced muscular strength and stiffened joints. Accidents are more likely to occur in very cold working conditions.

Susceptibility to cold varies from person to person. In general, people in good physical health are less susceptible to cold injury, while anyone working in a cold environment may be at risk. 

The following conditions may make the risk of cold injury greater:

  • Age-older adults are more susceptible
  • Blood circulation disorders
  • Injuries resulting in blood loss or altered blood flow
  • Previous cold injury
  • Respiratory disease, such as Asthma or Bronchitis
  • Fatigue
  • Consumption of alcohol or smoking
  • Use of certain drugs or medication

Precautions

In order to cope with the cold, heat loss has to be counter balanced by the production of heat. Heat is both required and produced at the cellular level as a result of complex metabolic processes that convert food – a primary source of energy – into glycogen.

Glycogen is the “fuel” for biochemical processes underlying all life functions including heat production.

Factors important for heat production include:

  • Food intake
  • Fuel (glycogen) store
  • Fluid balance
  • Physical activity
  • Shivering