How To Prevent Adverse Cold Weather Effects

Safety Tips For Working In The Cold

OSHA strongly urges employers and workers to prepare for work in extreme cold weather conditions in order to prevent cold stress, especially in these frigid temperatures. Extreme cold is as serious as any other health risk in the workplace, some say even worse. Even though there are plenty of safety precautions in place for those working in sub-optimal temperatures, both employers and employees should stay vigilant in their monitoring.

It recommends employers share the following tips with their workforce for preventing cold stress, the body’s inability to control its internal temperature, which can result in serious illness or death.

  • Assess the weather conditions before heading out to the worksite and monitor yourself and your co-workers once there.
  • Wear layered, dry, and insulated clothing with a windproof and waterproof outer shell.
  • Take warm-up breaks in heated shelters. When the temperature is -7 C or lower, these shelters should be available nearby.
  • Stay hydrated with warm, sweet drinks.
  • Keep your body moving, but limit heavy work to avoid perspiration.

Cold temperatures, high or cold wind, immersion in low-temperature water, physical exertion, and improper or inadequate clothing are some factors that put your workers at risk.

Effects Of Prolonged Cold Stress

Frostbite occurs when skin tissue freezes. Frostbitten skin may produce a prickling or burning sensation, followed by numbness. In serious cases, frostbite can lead to tissue damage, scarring, and even amputation.

Hypothermia is another result of cold stress. Hypothermia occurs when core body temperature drops below 35 C. Symptoms of hypothermia follow a progression, starting with pain and numbness and can lead to death.

Recommendations For Employers

Employers should take the following steps to protect workers from cold stress:

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas during warmer months.
  • Schedule cold jobs during the warmer parts of the day.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Provide warm liquids to workers.
  • Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
  • Provide cold stress training that includes information about:
    • Worker risk
    • Prevention
    • Symptoms
    • The importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms
    • Treatment
    • Personal protective equipment

Recommendations For Employees

Workers should avoid exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, workers should follow these recommendations to protect themselves from cold stress:

  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
  • Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
  • When choosing clothing, be aware that some clothing may restrict movement resulting in a hazardous situation.
  • Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands, and feet in extremely cold weather.
  • Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
  • Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer. (Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.)
  • Move into warm locations during work breaks; limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
  • Carry cold-weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jackets, blankets, a change of clothes, and a thermos of hot liquid.
  • Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.

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