Protecting Workers in Cold Weather
Connecticut is heading into the coldest months of the year.
And as temperatures drop, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is reminding workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments that they may be at risk of cold stress.
Cold Stress is a condition in which heat escapes the body faster than it can produce heat, leading to serious health conditions.
Possible dangers associated with cold stress include hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains.
Chilblains are ulcers formed by damaged blood vessels in the skin after repeated exposure to temperatures just above freezing.
Hundreds of workers die each year from cold-related incidents.
Employers need to carefully monitor the physiological strain that the cold can cause for workers.
OSHA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health suggest employers take the following steps to help protect workers:
- Schedule preventive or planned maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer month
- Schedule cold jobs for the warmer part of the day
- Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs
- Limit physical workload such that it will minimize sweating
- Limit work schedules that require standing or sitting still for long periods of time in cold environments. Provide safe heat sources for these areas
- Provide appropriate cold weather gear such as hats, gloves, and boots for work in cold environments
- Provide wind protective clothing based on air velocities
- Provide warm liquids to workers
- Provide warm areas for use during work, break periods, and to change out of wet clothes
- Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress
- Provide workers with the general training and information to protect themselves especially in the use of Personal Protective Equipment for cold conditions
- Note: some PPE may increase susceptibility to both cold and heat injuries simultaneously. Some PPE is very tight fitting (gloves, facemask) and can increase the chance for the development of frostbite. Moreover, highly insulating PPE worn while performing heavy work will result in a warm microclimate which can induce sweating. Once the physical activity stops, the sweat begins to evaporate causing further cooling which can contribute to cold stress.
When workers can’t avoid cold environments or temperatures, OSHA and NIOSH suggest they:
- Wear appropriate clothing
- Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands and feet
- Move into warm locations during breaks and limit time outside
- Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, blankets, and a thermos of hot liquid
- Include a thermometer and hot packs in first aid kits
- Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin
- Monitor physical condition and that of coworkers
OSHA and NIOSH recommend that these measures be adopted in a systematic manner so that the companies protect against cold stress in a proactive manner.
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