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Date PostedJuly 31, 2012

Unions warn workers of Coldest Winter

Winter is here

Unions have issued a warning to workers, particularly construction workers who work outdoors, of the dangers of working in the cold. Canberra workers should brace themselves for the coldest winters in over 3 decades.

One of the major hazards, expected to cause some problems are slips from frost or icy surfaces. Also workers should not be forced to continue working through impossible conditions. This alert on CFMEU’s website has more:

Canberra has experienced its coldest winter in over 36 years and winter is not half way through.

It is important for workers who are exposed to the frosty mornings and cold days to be dressed correctly, including non-slip shoes. Union EBAs state the employer’s responsibility to supply their workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and appropriate non-slip shoes. 

At this time of year frost and ice pose a considerable risk to your safety on-site especially on ply wood decks and the like. Don’t be forced to work in unsafe conditions this winter.

Please contact the union to check your employer has provided you with the correct clothing and PPE, or you are concerned about the impact of the weather conditions on your work safely.


The danger of working outdoors in extreme cold is that our bodies are unable to acclimatize to the cold in the same manner that they can adapt to heat. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injury may occur and permanent tissue damage and death may result.  Cold stress is associated with low temperature, high air movement and humidity, for example, from a blast of cold, wet wind.

Lowering of body temperature (also known as hypothermia) has an effect on the brain, causing erratic behaviour and numbness, muscular weakness and cramps. Therefore when operating dangerous equipment or working in a dangerous environment such as a construction site, the cold condition compounds the already prevalent hazards. For example a working operating a piece of heavy machinery or tool such as a jack hammer cannot afford to experience numbness or erratic behaviour caused by extreme coldness.  Hypothermia can occur when land temperatures are above freezing or water temperatures are below 37° C.

Some of the symptoms associated with extreme cold are

• Fatigue and drowsiness,

• Uncontrolled shivering,

• Cool bluish skin,

• Slurred speech or inability to speak

• Clumsy movements or unable to walk independently

• Hypothermia

• Irritable or confused behaviour.

• Frost bite. This is an extreme result of cold which occurs when deep layers of the skin freeze, the skin becomes waxy-white, hard and numb. It usually attacks the extremities first, fingers, hands, toes, feet, ears and nose.

•  Long term effects can include arthritis, rheumatism, chest complaints and heart disease, because of the strain on the heart caused by circulatory changes.

All cases of cold illnesses must be taken seriously and medical attention must be sought as soon as possible. All cases of frostbite must be treated as an emergency and the patient taken to hospital.

Tips for Enduring Work in Cold Environments

•  Wear the appropriate PPE (Personal protective wear) including warm clothing and non-slip footwear. Because surfaces become slippery due to frost and ice workers can suffer serious slips, trips and falls.

•  Take breaks in a warm place or rest area out of the cold and get warm

•  Drink plenty of warm fluids such as soup or hot chocolate

•  Introduce more frequent rest breaks out of the cold and should it begin to rain or snow, stop work for that period. If you become wet your chances of developing hypothermia will increase.

•   When working outdoors delay the work until it can be undertaken at a warmer time of the year if possible.

•   Workers should receive the appropriate training and should be warned in advance of the presence of this hazard. They should also know how to react in the face of this hazard and what to do in emergencies such as hypothermia.

Hypothermia is major risk to the human body so the appropriate clothing should be worn at all times and workers should keep warm. If workers feel they are at risk they should seek advice rather than continuing work and endangering their lives. Safety should always come before productivity.

 Posted by Steven Asnicar



Steven Asnicar is regarded as a leader across many fields of industry. In particular, his specialisation across the health, infrastructure, construction, resource and utility sectors has seen him successfully change the dynamics of these industries through the introduction of new strategic, marketing, training and technical frameworks. Steven works closely with industry peak bodies such as Safework Australia, Australian Logistics Council, National Advisory for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (NATESE) and the Council of Australian Governments in the development of new delivery standards and industry specific programs.

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