Posted on: November 30, 2023
Cold Weather Safety: Workplace Essentials
As the temperature drops and winter sets in, ensuring the safety and well-being of employees working in cold weather becomes a top priority for employers. Cold stress hazards can pose severe risks to workers' health and productivity, making it crucial to implement proper safety measures. In this blog post, we'll explore essential strategies for preventing cold stress in the workplace, from identifying hazards to providing the right clothing and equipment.
Cold stress occurs when heat loss is more rapid than the body can produce, exposing workers to risks such as severe illnesses, injuries, and tissue damage. Different areas of the country experience cold stress differently, with near-freezing temperatures contributing to the condition. The wind chill effect makes heat leave the body more quickly. Wetness or dampness can also contribute to the issue.
So, how cold does it have to be? Cold temperatures don't have to be below freezing. Hypothermia can occur even at temperatures above 40° F due to rain, sweat, or cold water.
- Immersion/Trench Foot: Trench foot is a non-freezing foot injury caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions, even in temperatures as high as 60°F. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet, causing injury.
- Frostbite: Frostbite is caused by the skin and tissues freezing. Frostbite can cause lasting physical damage and, in severe cases, amputation.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when the body's temperature drops below 95°F, causing it to lose heat faster than it can produce. This depletion of stored energy leads to abnormally low body temperature.
- Chilblains: Chilblains are painful inflammations of tiny blood vessels in the skin produced by prolonged exposure to temperatures ranging from just above freezing to 60°F.
Most people who experience cold stress at work are outdoors. Still, it can also happen to employees who work indoors in unheated or deliberately chilled workspaces, such as refrigerators or freezers.
Those with weak circulation, sedentary professions, and prior frostbite may be particularly vulnerable. The danger of cold stress for exposed personnel rises as wind speed increases because it makes the chilly air temperature feel even worse. Factors contributing to cold stress include:
- Wetness/dampness, inappropriate clothes, and tiredness
- Predisposing diseases include hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes
- Inadequate physical fitness
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, employers have a duty to protect workers from recognized hazards, including cold stress hazards, that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm in the workplace. Employers must train their employees. Training should comprise the following components:
- How to identify environmental and workplace factors that can lead to cold stress.
- The symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent it, and what you can do to aid those affected.
- How to dress appropriately for cold, damp, and windy weather.
Employers should do the following:
- Keep an eye on the workers' physical condition.
- Allow the body to warm up by taking regular brief rests in warm, dry settings.
- Work throughout the warmest part of the day.
- Use the buddy method (work in groups of two or more).
- Warm, sweet beverages should be served. Avoid alcoholic beverages.
- Snack on high-carbohydrate items to stay nourished.
- Avoid bare skin contact with cold metal or wet surfaces.
- Engineering controls, such as radiant heaters, should be provided.
Those employees at risk should understand cold stress hazards and implement remedies to improve safety in cold environments. Employers must assess workers' exposure risk and plan safe work execution based on wind chill temperature. It is crucial to evaluate the physical state during duties, especially for new workers or returning after a period of absence.
Make sure you understand the hazards of working in the cold and the measures that can improve worker safety by receiving the proper OSHA-compliant training. At 360Training, we offer many courses, both online and in person, to train you and your staff on the appropriate safety measures. Courses such as:
- OSHA 10-Hour Construction Training Course
- OSHA 30-Hour Construction Training Course
- OSHA 30-Hour General Industry Training Course
- OSHA 10-Hour General Industry Training Course
Check out our catalog and enroll in the course that is right for you!