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Working in the Cold: Keep it Ergonomic

Workers outside in the cold

Bundle up and stay inside, they say. It’s sound advice if you can work in front of a computer all day. Less so if you do physical work outdoors.

It’s beyond cold outside. And while many of us and are bundled up in our heated offices, thousands of you are out there braving the elements to keep our lights on, busses running, and streets safe. Everyone gets a lot of generic advice at this time of year. So, in light of these extreme temperatures, we put together some ergonomic advice for working in the cold. 

Working in the Cold: Keep it Ergonomic

First, especially when it’s dangerously cold, determine if there is any outside work you can put off for a warmer day or move indoors. Some of Canada’s more successful construction businesses, for example, have found a solution by manufacturing the majority of their products inside heated buildings, including items like concrete, walls, roof trusses, and more. Having a consistent environment often improves the quality of the construction as well. Working on a car in a garage rather than in the driveway is another good way to move work away from the cold. 

But, there’s a lot of work that can’t be put off or moved inside. It might be possible to tent the area and pipe in heat. This provides some relief from the cold, enabling equipment to function better and workers to be more comfortable – as long as proper ventilation is also in place.

Job Rotation – An Ergonomic Essential

Job rotation is one of the most effective cold weather strategies. It’s simple and already used in many industries; firefighters have developed effective rotation strategies for combating blazes while using SCBA’s. They are limited to 15-20 minutes of effective air time while fighting a fire before they have to switch out. This works well in the cold too, allowing workers to work in short enough stints that their muscles stay warm and skin doesn’t freeze. 

Job rotation aside, it is essential to have a nearby facility workers can warm up in, from both the inside and the outside. A heated vehicle, an on-site heated office or trailer, or a permanent structure that is plenty warm should be part of the essential cold weather toolkit. It is also important to use these breaks to keep the body warm from the inside. Some good hot cocoa on hand would not be frowned upon by any employee. 

Before workers go back out into the cold, they can limber up the muscles they are about to use. Stretching in the cold is not ideal, but stretching in a warming area, immediately before going into frigid temperatures, should be encouraged to minimize risk of injury. 

Working with Hands

To give yourself the maximum range of movement, use as dexterous a glove as possible for the task at hand. Sometimes it is possible to wear a dexterous glove inside a larger mitt, and remove the outer layer for short periods while completing the task, then putting it back on to keep the hands warm. This practice has been perfected by ice fishers, as they bait and tie hooks, then wait patiently for the fish to bite. 

When using tools, select those that do not have metal handles or poor heat conductivity. A tool that’s too cold to handle, even with gloves on, is not going to make the work any easier. There are a lot of good tool tips available for construction workers to select the right tool for the cold weather task. 

Carrying While Working in the Cold

The most common advice for carrying things on ice is to move slow and walk like a penguin. While this is good advice, it does not solve all the issues. Carrying things on ice has the potential to change your balance, and can make your reaction time slower, both of which make slips and falls more likely and hazardous.

The best option to minimize carrying is to move anything by a machine whenever possible. A forklift, a truck, a crane, or another lift are all great options. Minimizing the need to carry can solve a problem before it starts.

Sleds are great for more than just tobogganing. Again, this is an area where the ice fishing world has it figured out. The right size sled can move large items on ice and snow with minimal pulling effort. A good set of ice traction cleats added to your boots means that sliding items with a sled may be a great alternative to carrying anything in the cold. 

A sled to carry items when working in the cold

Don’t get caught in the cold. These ergonomic tips should help you come up with practical solutions that minimize your risk of injury if you work out in the cold.

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