The winter chill is creeping up in most parts of the country.
With all eyes on COVID-19 precautions, it’s important for employers not to lose sight of other workplace hazards, including cold weather.
In 2018, injuries and illnesses caused by cold stress spiked nearly 142 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cases soared to 290 from 120 the previous year. In 2019, 280 cases were reported. These stats reveal a lack of understanding about the dangers of cold stress among employers and workers.
Dangers of Cold Weather
Cold stress can be especially difficult to prepare for as temperatures aren’t the only indicator of danger.
Wind and moisture levels can also create issues for cold weather workers. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, water (including sweat) can displace body heat 25 times faster than dry air.
Wind chill is an especially important factor as it can literally blow away the body’s protective external layer of heat. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists consider all these factors when developing the three thresholds of cold stress hazards:
Little danger: Freezing of exposed skin within one hour
Danger: Freezing of exposed skin within one minute
Extreme danger: Freezing of exposed skin within 30 seconds
What to Watch For
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 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.
How to Protect Workers
Smart Shift Scheduling: OSHA offers several safety tools available to employers. They offer an online tool for working in cold weather with work/warm-up schedule for four-hour shifts. The schedule was created by the ACGIH and works by translating wind and air temperature into a maximum work period.
For example, an air temperature between -25° and -29° F translates to a maximum work period of 75 minutes. However, if the wind reaches 20 mph or more and the temperature is between -15° and -19° F, the maximum work period is 40 minutes.
As a general rule of thumb, employees should be allowed a 15-minute break for every hour of work. For temperatures below zero, workers should work for shorter periods with breaks that are equal in length (i.e., work for five minutes and warm up for five minutes).
Training: As always, training is a key part of health and safety. Educate workers on conditions that can cause cold stress, as well as the symptoms and signs of the dangers listed above.
Engineering Controls: The use of radiant heaters and other engineering controls can help protect against cold stress. Include thermometers and chemical hot packs in all first aid kits.
Proper Dress: OSHA offers plenty of resources on how to dress appropriately for cold conditions. NIOSH health scientists Brenda Jacklitsch stresses the importance of layering clothing. It provides better insulation and also allows workers to remove layers if they become too warm or if clothing gets wet.
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.
About Worksite Medical
In most cases, OSHA requires medical surveillance testing, and at no cost to employees.
Worksite Medical makes that program easier with mobile medical testing.
We conduct on-site respirator fit tests, as well as pulmonary function tests and heavy metal lab work, right on your job site. We also keep accurate, easy-to-access medical records for your convenience. You’ll keep your employees at work, and stay ahead of OSHA inspections.
With Worksite Medical, a mobile medical testing unit — we can bring all the resources of a lab to you. Our certified lab technicians can perform both qualitative and quantitative respirator tests to ensure a perfect fit.
Protect your team and your workplace now with Worksite Medical. Not sure what you need? Try our medical testing wizard here.
Give us a call at 1-844-622-8633, or complete the form below to schedule an on-site visit or to get your free quote!