No one understands the amazing force of Mother Nature more than a lineman working in harsh winter conditions. Just as a fireman runs into a burning building while others run out, a lineman is called out into adverse conditions— like extreme cold—when others are advised to stay inside.
To help keep these “heroes on the line” safe, start the winter season with a cold weather briefing. These briefings should cover the following areas:
In the truck
Inspections should ensure brakes are balanced, antifreeze is on board, batteries are full, tire tread depth is appropriate, defrosters are in good shape and other maintenance issues that might be overlooked during warmer months are addressed. In addition, every truck should have an emergency or breakdown kit that includes items like first aid supplies, jumper cables, flares, extra windshield wiper fluid, bottled water and pre-packaged, non-perishable energy food such as trail mix or protein bars.
It’s widely known that synthetic materials like fleece work the best to keep body warmth in and cold air out. But for linemen, throwing on extra layers of the latest high-tech clothing isn’t as simple as it sounds. OSHA’s new standards require employers to ensure employees who are exposed to hazards from flames or electric arcs, like linemen, do not wear clothing that could melt onto skin. This includes clothing made from certain types of synthetic materials. What’s more, employers must now provide these articles of clothing (linemen should never wear their own jackets, scarves, hats or gloves).1
Dehydration is as dangerous in winter as it is in summer, especially since the cold air is much drier than normal. A University of New Hampshire study found that fluid deficits of 3 to 8 percent of body mass have been reported in individuals working in cold environments. The study uncovered a hidden reason it can be easier to become dehydrated in cold weather versus warm weather: Loss of fluid from our bodies, which triggers thirst in warmer weather, does not elicit the same response when the temperatures dip.2
Signs of trouble
Linemen should be briefed on the warning signs not just for dehydration but also for hypothermia and frost bite. For instance, as hypothermia sets in, shivering will stop and the worker may begin to lose coordination. For frostbite, reddened skin will start developing gray or white patches and numbness may set in.3
OSHA’s winter safety checklist
- Know the symptoms of cold stress (dehydration, hypothermia and frost bite) and how to monitor it
- Always dress appropriately for the cold (while still passing regulation standards)
- Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body
- Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case your clothing gets wet
- Drink warm, sweetened fluids (no alcohol)
- Use proper controls, safe work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the employer3
Winter weather is a serious danger. Keep linemen safe by reminding them to take these simple precautions as they rush out into the harsh conditions the rest of us may be lucky enough to avoid.