Cold weather can affect outdoor work in a variety of ways, but the work needs to get done regardless of the elements. Without the right personal protective equipment, working outside in the cold can be uncomfortable or even hazardous. In addition to proper training and safe working conditions, the proper protective equipment can help your employees get their work done as comfortably and safely as possible.
With the winter months quickly approaching you also need to prepare your equipment for harsh winter weather conditions. Whether working in the freezing temperatures or storing equipment for the season, you need to ensure proper winter maintenance.
1) Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
* Wearing the Right Clothing
Dressing properly for the cold depends on how long you’ll be outside, whether the conditions are wet or dry and how cold the temperature is. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), wearing three layers provides the best protection for extended winter exposure. These layers should include an inner layer of silk, wool or another synthetic material to wick moisture away from the body, and a middle wool layer for insulation purposes. The outer layer should both protect against the cold, windy or wet conditions, and provide ventilation to prevent overheating.
Long thermal undergarments, flannel shirts and down vests all provide excellent protection—particularly when layered. Those who spend a lot of time outdoors on a daily basis also often wear insulated bib coveralls or duck canvas overalls. For all conditions, jackets that extend below the waist, and are made of either down or an engineered insulating material, are a good choice, according to OSHA. For wet conditions, jackets that have a protective waterproof or highly water-resistant exterior provide suitable protection.
* Protecting Your Head and Extremities
When it’s cold out, protecting your head is very important. A hat shields your ears from the cold and retains heat. The combination of a hat and headband or ear muffs will often work better than a hat alone because hats can easily rise up off the ears as workers move around, according to the National Safety Council.
It’s also important to make sure that all extremities are protected. Blood vessels constrict when exposed to the cold, so extremities, which have fewer blood vessels than large body parts, become vulnerable. This includes toes, fingers and feet, and also ears, the nose and cheeks. For the right winter PPE equipment to protect the feet, OSHA recommends warm, insulated and waterproof boots. For industrial and other heavy work conditions, waterproof or water-resistant steel-toed boots are available to keep your employees’ feet warm, comfortable and protected.
Waterproof or water-resistant insulated gloves are important to maintaining warm hands during an extended workday outside. Unless your workers are simply on-site as observers, they need to be able to flex, pull and do other hand-related activities that are necessary for getting the job done. Protective gloves that allow the movement of the index finger and thumb are available for such duties.
* Knowing the Conditions
Be aware that wet conditions and dry conditions may require different clothing. Waterproof materials used in wet conditions keep moisture at bay and greatly reduce the risk of frostbite or hypothermia. However, wearing waterproof materials in dry conditions can trap moisture and perspiration, which can cause the feet or hands to slip, and could increase the potential for work accidents. In addition, no protective gear should be tight or restrictive. Space is needed for air to circulate and to allow your workers an appropriate range of motion.
According to the National Safety Council, managers and supervisors play a very important role in helping to protect workers from the cold weather. Although your employees may be aware of the dangers, after a long summer and fall period, some of those procedures may be forgotten or neglected. By reviewing standard cold-weather procedures, make sure each employee is outfitted with the proper PPE equipment and periodically checking in with employees, you and your supervisors can help employees remain safe in adverse weather conditions.
2) Prepare your equipment for the winter:
* Fuel, lubrication and air filtration
When it comes to a machine’s engine, it’s important for operators to pay close attention to fuel, lubrication and air filtration. Failure to do so could result in costly repairs or machine downtime.
Fuel system maintenance includes cleaning the fuel tank cap/vent and making sure the cap is functioning properly; checking for water or sediment in the fuel, which is the number one cause of fuel injection system failures; and inspecting the fuel filter.
Also, verify the quality of fuel you are using/receiving from your provider. Cold weather operation tends to accentuate any fuel quality issues, such as moisture in the fuel or contaminants.
Engine oils protect the engine’s vital components. Make sure to always follow the equipment manufacturer’s lubricant and change interval recommendations.
Inspect the air filtration system for any openings that could draw in unfiltered air and always use the correct replacement filter. Contaminated air is a common cause of premature engine failure.
* Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF)
If the machine uses diesel exhaust fluid, or DEF, it’s important for operators to know that it can freeze and thaw without hurting its ability to function properly. DEF has a shelf life of one year. If owners aren’t going to use their equipment during the winter, it’s a good idea to store indoors in temperature-controlled environments that are out of direct sunlight. Also, make sure to store DEF in an HTPE plastic or stainless steel container, as it is mildly corrosive. DEF can be filled up prior to storage, however, make sure to leave room for expansion. DEF can expand in the winter up to seven percent and potentially crack the reservoir.
Pumps used in DEF dispensing systems require protection at temperatures lower than zero degrees Celsius. If the machine will remain in use throughout the winter months, the best option is to use an insulated heat blanket for DEF Totes. The blankets protect the DEF fluid and pump assembly from freezing. But if the machine will not be used during the winter, then pumps should be drained.
* Cooling systems
Cooling systems should be inspected regularly, including the coolant reservoir and hoses. Contractors should verify that coolant in the radiator is always filled to the cap, and also inspect the cap for proper relief pressure.
Coolant does more than just keep the cooling system from freezing. It prevents corrosion, lubricates shaft seals, increases the boiling point temperature and inhibits cavitation, which is a damaging condition that erodes components. Because of this, coolants should be flushed and replaced at OEM-specified intervals.
Contractors should also check the coolant concentration, which should be maintained at 50 percent. Pay attention to whether the system uses conventional or OAT coolants and never mix the two.
Preventative winter maintenance of the battery actually starts in the fall. There are a number of steps operators should take to start preparing their equipment for the cold winter months.
For starters, check that the battery electrolyte is up to the full indicator ring and over the top of the plates. Plates that have dried will never perform satisfactorily again. It’s also good practice to check the rated current output of the alternator and load test current output of the battery.
Operators should clean any dirt and debris from the top of the battery; it can create a conductive path and slowly drain energy. If there’s any corrosion around the posts, clean them using a little baking soda and a terminal brush. The main point here is that you want to ensure the terminal posts and cables have clean and secure contact, ensuring the best and most consistent current supply from the batteries to the machine.
If the machine isn’t going to be used for the winter and will be stored outdoors, it’s best to remove the batteries and store them indoors to prevent freezing. Any time a battery will be sitting for an extended period, it is best to connect it to a battery maintainer to keep it at a full state of charge. This will keep it ready when the time comes to use the machine.
Contrary to belief, cold temperatures don’t significantly impact the service life of a battery. However, it does induce stress, amplifying the effects of time, heat, vibration and performance of the charging system. If the machine will be operated throughout the season, it’s important to make sure batteries are properly charged.
An under-charged battery can perform well at 27 degrees Celsius, but its true condition becomes evident at -18 degrees C when starting current demands can increase by 200 percent and a battery, even in great condition, is reduced to 40 percent of its summer cranking current.
Frequent starts and stops are also detrimental because the battery is never given the chance to fully recharge.
The undercarriage of a machine represents roughly 40 to 60 percent of its maintenance costs over the machine’s service life. So in order to maximize a machine’s efficiency in the winter, proper undercarriage maintenance is essential.
Operators should make daily inspections and keep it clean of any mud, snow or debris. Carefully look for loose or worn parts, and refer to the operator’s manual for correct track tensioning and adjustment.
Whether operating the machine during the winter or storing it, make sure to schedule an undercarriage inspection once a year.
Tires require daily care and maintenance during winter. It’s important for equipment operators to take steps to reduce tire wear while operating equipment. Always keep tires properly inflated, and remove counterweights when not in use, as they put additional stress on the tires. Look for even wear, remove debris and inspect tires for any cracking and chunking. If the centre of the tire is worn smooth, or there’s any chunking, then it’s time to replace them.
* Equipment operation in winter
In order to properly maintain equipment operating in cold temperatures and snowy conditions, operators should alter their operation habits to ensure equipment longevity. Behaviours like minimizing high operating speeds and on road travel, and alternating turning directions can be the difference between downtime and productivity.
Another important piece of maintenance is a pre-operation inspection and the proper warm-up of the equipment. Warming up the machine reduces shock to components caused by cold fluids or hydraulic systems. The potential for blown hoses or Orings increases with colder weather. Providing sufficient warm-up time will provide an operator a more productive machine as well as increase safe operation and a more comfortable operating environment. When it comes to operator behaviour, excessive idling should be monitored closely, as it consumes needless fuel, warranty hours and contaminates diesel particulate filters. Condensation can build-up in the crankcase, which promotes the build-up of acids and sludge, leading to costly downtime and potential repairs.
* Heavy Equipment Gide