Cold and flu season isn’t the only health worry for workers during cold weather winter months. Outdoor work can be especially hazardous in severe winter weather conditions.
Although there isn’t a specific cold weather work OSHA standard, employers are required to keep their workplaces free from recognized hazards that could cause serious harm or death.
That’s why it’s important for both employers and employees to know the signs of cold-stress, which occurs when your body is no longer able to warm itself. OSHA warns that there are several serious health concerns that can occur when workers are exposed to cold stress.
Health Hazards for Cold Weather Work
- Trench Foot: Also known as immersion, trench foot can occur when feet are exposed to prolonged wet and cold conditions. Tingling, pain, and swelling can occur as wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Trench foot can be avoided by providing proper footwear and training employees to recognize these conditions.
- Frostbite: Frostbite is the literally freezing of the skin and tissue. This can lead to permanent damage of the body and even amputation. Loss of feeling or grey/white patches in the skin may indicate frostbite. Always call a medical professional when symptoms are present, as more severe tissue damage can occur if the body is not re-warmed properly.
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia occurs when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees. Prolonged exposure to the cold can use up energy, making the body unable to warm itself. Although hypothermia is more likely at low temperatures, it can even occur in mildly cool temperatures (above 40 degrees). This is why short shift rotation and breaks are important.
To avoid injury and illness in the cold months, you can put these methods in place to keep a safe (and warm) workplace.
Just as in the summer, a different time of year calls for new practices to keep top of mind, because the bitter cold is just as hazardous as a blistering hot summer day.
Top Ways to Protect Your Team
- Monitor Weather Conditions. Navigating the health and safety risks of cold weather starts with monitoring conditions and knowing what to do when things change. Lower temperatures means that frostbite can be contracted even quicker. When the temperature is between 0 F and -5 F, workers could see symptoms in just 10 minutes or less. Site managers should create a plan for varying conditions as well as an efficient way to share it with their crew each day.
- Set Dress Code Standards. Most cold stress occurs when the body is losing heat faster than it can create it. Proper winter weather wear is one of the best ways to retain body heat. Educate your employees on recommended clothing through training. Here are some tips to share:Wear multiple layers to account for changes in temperature and wind.
- Avoid overly tight clothing, as this inhibits the flow of blood throughout the body.
- In conditions where frostbite is likely, the mouth, neck and face should all be covered with a garment that doesn’t impact visibility.
- Warm hats are non-negotiable, as a great deal of heat leaves the body through the head.
- Anti-fog goggles and glasses preserve visibility in windy and blustery conditions.
- It won’t take long for wet toes and feet to succumb to frostbite. Waterproof boots, ideally with removable wool liners, should be mandatory.
- Insulated work gloves keep hands and fingers warm without surrendering dexterity
- Rotate Work Schedules. Cold weather stress sets in quickly … that can’t be overstated. That’s why winter calls for more frequent breaks, worker changeovers, and shorter shifts overall. OSHA recommends creating warm-up areas where workers can recuperate during shift breaks. Many sites utilize portable space heaters and hot drink stations to create a refuge.
Keep your employees safe and healthy year-round with regular medical surveillance from Worksite Medical. We provide on-site medical surveillance testing that will help you remain OSHA-compliant — and avoid costly health violations and penalties.
Give us a call this winter at 1-844-OCCUMED, or email/chat with us today.
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