Dangerously cold conditions can sometimes be sneaky. You may not realize until you’re out in it for a few minutes how cold it really is. When you or your team have to work outside during the winter months, remember as you’re preparing to check the weather forecast and temperatures and obtain the necessary protective gear.
Cold stress is a serious hazard that employers and employees need to be aware of on worksites. Workers who may be working in cold temperature for extended periods include:
- Snow cleanup crews
- Sanitation workers
- Construction workers
- Police officers
- Emergency response personnel
- Emergency medical technicians
Keep the following tips and guidelines in mind as you brave winter weather.
How cold is too cold can vary by area. In traditionally warmer regions, near freezing temps are “extreme cold,” while in other areas it’s expected. It’s harder for the body to maintain its temperature in cold environments and heat can leave your body more rapidly.
Wind chill is what you feel when air temperature and wind speed are combined. If the air temperature is 40°F and the wind speed is 35 mph, the effect on exposed skin is as if the air temperature was 28°F.
Cold stress drives down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. It can lead to serious health problems, such as tissue damage, and possibly death.
Risk factors contributing to cold stress include:
- Wetness or dampness
- Dressing improperly
- Health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
- Poor physical conditioning
Hazards and Symptoms
When it’s really cold, the body uses more energy keeping the internal core warm, eventually shifting blood flow from the extremities to the chest and abdomen, increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. In a wet environment, trench foot may be a problem.
Hypothermia occurs when body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced with the normal body temperature dropping below 95°F. While most likely at very cold temperatures, hypothermia can occur at temperatures above 40°F if you’re chilled from wet conditions.
Symptoms of hypothermia, from mild to severe, include:
- Loss of coordination
- Confusion and disorientation
- Inability to walk or stand
- Dilated pupils
- Slowed pulse and breathing
- Loss of consciousness
What to Do about Hypothermia
A person could die if help is not received immediately. Call 911 immediately in an emergency; otherwise seek medical assistance as soon as possible
Move the person to a warm, dry area. Remove wet clothes and replace with dry clothes. Cover the body (including the head and neck) with layers of blankets.
Preventing Cold Stress
Employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a workplace free from serious hazards. Employers should:
- Train workers to prevent and recognize cold stress illnesses and injuries and first aid.
- Provide engineering controls like radiant heaters and shielding work areas from cold wind.
- Implement safe work practices such as:
- Provide plenty of warm sweetened liquids
- Schedule heavy work during the warmer part of the day
- Assign workers to tasks in pairs, so that they can monitor each other for signs of cold stress
- Give workers frequent breaks in warm areas
Proper Cold Weather Attire
Dressing properly is crucial to prevent cold stress. The type of fabric is important as cotton loses its insulation value when wet while wool and most synthetics retain their insulation.
Layering provides better insulation, so wear at least three layers of loose fitting, wool or synthetic clothing with an outer wind and rain protection layer.
Wear a hat or hood to reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head. Use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth if needed and insulated, water resistant gloves. Wear insulated, waterproof boots.
Winter Safety Tips
Employers must ensure that workers know the symptoms of cold stress. If you’re working in cold weather, remember to:
- Dress properly for the cold.
- Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
- Stay dry in the cold.
- Keep extra clothing handy in case you need to change.
- Drink warm, sweetened fluids.
- Follow proper engineering controls.
- Employ safe work practices.
- Use personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by your employer.
OSHA requires employers to provide workers with a safe workplace and the training, processes, and tools to protect themselves. Some hazards are unavoidable and must be mitigated. Managers should include weather hazards in their pre-assignment safety preparations and ensure workers have the knowledge and PPE to prevent cold stress, hypothermia, and frost bite.
A common theme in workplace safety initiatives is worker training. Employees need safety training for the hazards they will face to protect themselves. One convenient way to do that is with online education from 360training.com. Browse a variety of on-demand environment health safety training today.