In a new report, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health outlines recommendations to improve thermal comfort of employees who work in moderately cold environments such as food preparation workers who may spend eight hours or more in refrigerated rooms.

The case study, which looked at an airline catering facility, was published in the Journal of Environmental Health and presented Nov. 4 at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual conference in Chicago.

Many indoor workers can be negatively affected by cold work environments. Workers in the food preparation and processing or cold storage industries, supermarkets, or in the transportation chain may spend the majority of their work shift in cold rooms without health and safety guidelines specific to these moderately cold temperatures.

The report stems from a Health Hazard Evaluation NIOSH researchers conducted at the airline catering facility because of concerns with exposure to cold temperatures.

NIOSH found several sources of employee discomfort including air drafts, insufficient use of gloves for tasks requiring manual dexterity, and a lack of knowledge about how to work safely in a cold room.

Following the evaluation, NIOSH recommended the employer take the following steps to improve the thermal comfort of employees working cold rooms:

  • Install equipment to reduce drafts and condensation
  • Encourage employees to change out of wet clothes
  • Consider having employees wear thinner, fingertipless liner gloves underneath the required plastic gloves; implement a replacement schedule for gloves and other PPE
  • Rotate employees between warmer and colder areas throughout the workday
  • Provide hand warmers outside of the cold rooms
  • Minimize work requiring fine manual dexterity in the cold rooms when feasible
  • Educate employees on the symptoms of cold stress

While the recommendations outlined were specific to the airline catering facility evaluated, some of these recommendations may apply to other facilities where workers spend most of their work shift inside cold rooms.