Posted On: November 23, 2023

Stay Safe: Cold Weather Workplace Tips

With winter upon us, businesses and employees must stay aware of the unique challenges that cold weather presents. While approaching the holidays can feel exciting, they bring with them the very real dangers of cold stress hazards. Whether it's a construction worker braving the elements or a delivery driver navigating slippery routes, cold weather poses threats that every employer must recognize and address. 

Though there might not be a direct OSHA standard regarding cold weather work, the obligation to protect our workforce from such recognized dangers is undeniably there. In this blog, we will go over practical measures your business can implement to help ensure that your teams are well-prepared and protected in cold weather conditions. 

Cold Weather Workplace Tips 

Even though the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 doesn't have a specific standard for cold environments, it still mandates employers to shield workers from recognized hazards. Cold stress, which can lead to conditions like frostbite, hypothermia, and trench foot, is undoubtedly one of these hazards.

If your business involves work in chilly conditions, this guide will help you keep your employees safe. Here are some tips for working in cold weather: 

1. Recognize Cold Stress Hazards

Before anything else, awareness is crucial. Cold stress is a collective term used to describe several cold-related illnesses that can occur when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature in cold conditions. When exposed to cold temperatures, our body begins to lose heat faster than it can produce it. Prolonged exposure to cold can eventually use up the body’s stored energy, leading to lower internal body temperature. This reduction in body temperature can lead to serious health problems, tissue damage, and even death in extreme cases.

Cold stress hazards come in many forms:

  • Hypothermia: This occurs when body temperature drops to a point where normal muscle function becomes impaired. Severe hypothermia can lead to the body shutting down and can be life-threatening.
  • Frostbite: This is an injury caused by the freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chins are the most affected areas. If left untreated, frostbite can lead to amputation.
  • Trench Foot: Also known as immersion foot, it is caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Unlike frostbite, trench foot does not involve freezing but rather the deterioration of skin tissues due to prolonged wetness.
  • Chilblains: These are caused by repeated skin exposure to temperatures just above freezing to as high as 60°F. They manifest as red patches, itching, possible blistering, and inflammation. 

Cold stress is a serious concern, especially for workers exposed to wet, windy, and cold conditions. Recognizing the symptoms and taking preventive measures is essential to avoid these conditions. 

2. Dress Appropriately

Wearing the proper clothing is your first line of defense against cold stress. Employees should:  

  • Layer Up: Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing to provide insulation. Start with an inner layer that can wick away moisture, a middle layer to insulate, and an outer layer to keep out the wind and rain.
  • Cover Extremities: Fingers and toes are most susceptible to frostbite. Wear gloves and insulated, waterproof boots.
  • Protect Head and Face: As much as 40% of body heat can be lost when the head is exposed. Ensure you're wearing a hat that covers your ears. If working in freezing conditions, use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth.
  • Stay Dry: Wet clothing from perspiration or external sources can intensify heat loss. Keep spare clothing at the workplace and change if you get wet. 

3. Use the Right Equipment 

Specialized equipment can help in mitigating cold-related risks. Employees should consider using: 

  • Heated Gear: These can range from battery-operated jackets to heated gloves. Such equipment can keep critical parts of the body warm in extremely cold conditions.
  • Thermal Blankets: Having thermal blankets on hand can help warm up an employee showing signs of cold stress.
  • Non-Slip Footwear: Cold conditions often mean icy surfaces. Ensure your footwear has proper traction.

4. Schedule Warm-up Breaks 

Warm-up breaks are vital. Employers should schedule frequent short breaks in warm, dry areas to allow the body to warm up. Regaining body temperature helps ensure an employee doesn't experience cold stress. Here are some ways to do this effectively: 

  • Increase Frequency: In freezing conditions, increase the frequency of these breaks.
  • Warm Shelters: If possible, set up warm break areas where employees can get out of the cold.
  • Stay Hydrated and Nourished: During breaks, encourage the consumption of warm, sweetened liquids (avoiding caffeine) and ensure employees have had enough to eat. Energy is used up more rapidly in the cold, so replenishing is essential. 

5. Educate Your Team 

Finally, education and training are pivotal. Employers should educate and train their employees. All employees should be able to recognize the symptoms of cold stress in themselves and their coworkers. Regular training sessions, especially before the onset of cold weather, can be critical in ensuring everyone's safety. 

This training should include:

  • Identifying the environmental and workplace situations that might result in cold stress.
  • Understanding the signs of cold stress, methods to prevent it, and interventions for affected individuals. 
  • Choosing the right attire for conditions that are cold, damp, and windy.

Extra Tips From OSHA

Additional OSHA tips employers should follow to avoid cold stress in the workplace include: 

  • Monitor workers’ physical condition. 
  • Schedule work during the warmest part of the day. 
  • Use the buddy system (work in pairs). 
  • Stay well nourished by snacking on high-carbohydrate foods. 
  • Refrain from touching cold metal or wet surfaces with exposed skin. 
  • Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters. 

Next Steps 

As employers, you have a responsibility to protect your employees. You can do this by providing education so each worker can learn to recognize the signs of cold stress and take precautions. Together, ensuring a safe workplace, even in the coldest conditions, is achievable. 

At OSHAcampus by 360training, we make it easy for you to meet your occupational safety training requirements with our industry-leading, approved courses and programs. Our extensive catalog includes OSHA 10-Hour Construction, OSHA 30-Hour Construction, OSHA 10-Hour General Industry, OSHA 30-Hour General Industry, and much more. 

With over 25 years of experience at the forefront of online OSHA training, we can provide your business with the workplace safety training best suited to your work environment. Let us assist you in reducing workplace risk and staying compliant with the changing environmental health and safety regulations. Contact us today! 

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