Brrrr, It’s Cold Outside!

Working outside in frigid temps can be dangerous. Here are some tips to get you and your plumbing team through the winter.
Brrrr, It’s Cold Outside!
The temperature was in single digits when Kenney Brown began his workday in Maine.

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The definition of “extreme cold” varies from region to region. In the South, near-freezing temperatures feel downright cold, while in the North it’s not surprising if the mercury dips well below zero this time of year.

Fishing weather in Minnesota

In Minnesota, where temperatures hit a balmy 30 the first week of January, lows this week are forecast to dip below zero with highs reaching single digits.

“Now even these temps might be warm to our brothers north of the border, but life goes on,” says Mike Westman, owner of HomeTown Plumbing in Ham Lake, Minnesota, about 25 miles north of the Twin Cities. “Whatever the temperature, it’s always a good time to go fishing.”

Born and raised in Minnesota, Justin Noga, who now lives in Phoenix, says long johns and a Carhartt coat and hat always kept him warm.

“Along with trips to the truck for some heat,” he says.

Nate Jenkins says when it gets cold in Boston, where the temperature dropped to 11 degrees in early January, he layers in long johns, T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt and hoodie, regular socks, boots and a Carhartt winter hat. And while subzero temperatures were freezing pipes in Idaho, Edward Engquist, supervisor for Swift Plumbers in Port Charlotte, says it was nice and sunny in Florida.

Sunny in Florida

No matter where you are, if you’re a plumber working outside on a daily basis the cold is going to affect you. Heat leaves the body more quickly, causing the body to work much harder to stay warm and keep a normal core temperature. If you’re not careful and properly dressed, this can lead to cold stress.

Cold stress is caused by a lowered skin temperature, which eventually drives down body temperature. This causes a variety of illnesses and injuries ranging from hypothermia and frostbite to trench foot.

Besides freezing weather, other factors can contribute to these complications, including wearing wet or damp clothing, not dressing properly for the weather, being out of shape and exhaustion. Pre-existing health conditions like hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes also can make a person more susceptible to cold stress.

OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard covering working in extreme cold environments but does say employers should provide training on preventing, recognizing and treating cold stress illnesses.

One of the most important factors in preventing cold stress is dressing properly when working outside in inclement weather. Recommendations include:

  •    Wear layers of loose-fitting clothing. The inner layer should be moisture wicking.
  •    Wear a hat that covers your ears. Most body heat escapes from your head.
  •    Use a knit facemask.
  •    Wear insulated, waterproof gloves.
  •    Wear insulated and waterproof boots.

Other tips for plumbers include:

  •     Monitor your physical condition and that of your co-workers. All workers at risk should know the signs of cold stress and what to do if they or someone else begins to develop symptoms.
  •     Stay dry in the cold. Getting wet or sweating increases heat loss from the body.
  •     Keep extra clothing handy in case it gets wet.
  •     Drink plenty of fluids. You can quickly become dehydrated in cold weather.
  •     Use proper engineering controls (heaters, work shelters), safe work practices and personal protective equipment always. 

For more on cold stress and first-aid recommendations, visit the OSHA guidelines or tips from the CDC.

And for more on dressing properly for extreme cold, here are some tips on clothing and layering from the experts at Under Armour.


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