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Protecting Workers in Cold Weather

January 25, 1999
Related Topics: Workplace Violence, Ergonomics and Facilities, Safety and Workplace Violence, Featured Article
Your responsibilities include providing safety guidelines for employees who work outdoors. You know that injuries from frostbite and hypothermia have been numerous and costly in the past. How do you prepare your outdoor worksites and advise employees to prepare for the elements?

"Dress warm."

Your mother was right: "Wearing the right clothing is the most important step a person can take to fight the cold's harmful effects, and ultimately avoid cold-related injuries," says an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fact sheet entitled "Protecting Workers in Cold Environments." The fact sheet defines the harmful effects of the cold and provides guidelines and recommendations for protecting workers. To prevent cold-related disorders, OSHA recommends proper personal protective clothing, engineering controls and safe work practices. Also included are immediate first aid measures to be taken to treat cold-related injuries or illnesses.

Personal protective clothing should include at least three layers of clothing:

  • An outer layer, such as nylon or Gortex® to break the wind and allow some ventilation;
  • A middle layer of down or wool to absorb sweat and retain insulation when wet; and
  • An inner layer of cotton or synthetic weave to allow ventilation.

Pay special attention to protecting feet, hands, face and head. Footgear should be insulated to protect against cold and dampness. Keep a change of clothing available in case work clothes get wet.

Engineering controls in the workplace can help reduce the risk of cold-related injuries.

  • Use an onsite source of heat, such as air jets, radiant heaters or contact warm plates;
  • Shield work areas from drafty or windy conditions;
  • Provide a heated shelter for employees who experience prolonged exposure to equivalent wind-chill temperatures of 20 degrees F (-6 degrees C) or less; and
  • Use thermal insulating material on equipment handles when temperatures drop below 30 degrees F (-1 degrees C).

Safe work practices, such as changes in work schedules and practices, help combat the effects of very cold weather.

  • Allow a period of adjustment to the cold before embarking on a full work schedule;
  • Always permit employees to set their own paces and take extra work breaks when needed;
  • Reduce, as much as possible, the number of activities performed outdoors;
  • Select the warmest hours of the day and minimize activities that reduce circulation;
  • Ensure that employees remain hydrated;
  • Establish a buddy system for working outdoors; and
  • Educate employees to the symptoms of cold-related stresses—heavy shivering, uncomfortable coldness, severe fatigue, drowsiness or euphoria.

Cite: U.S. Department of Labor News Release 98-508 (December 23, 1998).

Source: CCH INCORPORATED is a leading provider of information and software for human resources, legal, accounting, health care and small business professionals. CCH offers human resources management, payroll, employment, benefits and worker safety products and publications in print, CD, online and via the Internet.

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