As warehouses and workplaces prepare to service Christmas demand and temperatures take a dip, it’s important to ensure employees are staying safe when working in adverse conditions.
Workplace safety experts at trolley manufacturer Blue Trolley have shared guidance debunking or confirming common myths that are believed around working in cold climates to promote safe working when cold snaps arise.
Here are nine common myths about working in cold conditions:
1. It’s illegal to work under certain temperatures
This is a myth; however, workplaces do have a legal responsibility to maintain “reasonable working temperatures”. Health and safety guidance provided by the government outlines the minimum temperatures for workers as 16ºC for typical workers or 13ºC for those working in physically active jobs.
2. You lose most body heat through your head
Although it is widely believed you should wear a hat in winter because most body heat is lost through our heads, this is false. Our head, face, and chest may feel more sensitive to cold, but it’s just as important to cover the rest of your body to keep warm in cold weather.
3. Keeping warm ensures you avoid catching a cold
According to the NHS, this myth is partly true. While colds are caused by catching viruses, the NHS advises that keeping warm through the winter can reduce the risk of contamination. It is also important to practise good hygiene to reduce the spread of infection, as keeping warm alone is not enough to prevent risk.
4. You shouldn’t wear sunscreen when it’s cold outside
This is a myth. UV rays are still harmful throughout the winter, even when the weather is cloudy and overcast. Just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean the risk is gone. Snow can also reflect up to 80% of the sun’s rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, meaning you can still get sunburn in the winter.
5. You can’t do physical activities in the cold
It’s false that you can never undertake physical activity during cold weather; however, it is important to know your limits and stay safe when undertaking physical work. Cold temperatures could mean your body has to work harder at physical activity. Prolonged exposure to cold can mean frostbite or hypothermia. Physical activity when it’s moderately cold is allowed and can carry some health benefits, such as increased metabolism and calorie burn. It is also beneficial to keep blood circulating, which additionally keeps your body warm.
6. You should wear bulky items of clothing when it’s cold
This is a myth; in fact, experts recommend layering thin clothing, which is more beneficial for keeping warm than wearing one bulky piece of clothing. Wearing items that are too bulky could lead to sweating while you work. When this moisture has nowhere to go, it can be absorbed. Having layers of clothing you can add and remove to keep your temperature consistent gives you flexibility to adapt to a changing climate.
7. Frostbite is rare and hard to get
It’s true that frostbite isn’t very common, although frostnip affects far more people in the UK. Frostbite is when skin and tissues are damaged by exposure to colder weather and is more likely to affect those spending time outdoors through the winter. Frostnip is common amongst outdoor workers and relates to the early stages of frostbite, such as numbness from the cold. The NHS estimates there are 30–60 cases of frostbite each year on average, with some years seeing as many as 111 cases.
8. Men and women tolerate temperatures differently
It’s true that men and women experience temperatures differently; a 2015 study found women were typically more comfortable at a temperature 2.5ºC warmer than men, between 24ºC and 25ºC. Men’s higher proportion of body mass means more heat is produced involuntarily, ensuring they don’t feel the cold as much as women do. It’s important to consider this impact to ensure diversity and inclusion play a part in workplace health and safety processes.
9. Ignoring my thermostat temperature preferences at work is discrimination
Depending on whether you qualify for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) protections within your workplace, a case for discrimination could be made if your employer refuses to acknowledge the reasonable adjustments you require when working in cold conditions. If you have a health condition that is more affected by these conditions, you should make this known to your workplace and discuss adjustments for your safety.