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Working in the Cold

Since the cold season has just arrived, I wanted to send information regarding employees working in the cold. Anyone working in a cold environment may be at risk of cold stress. Some workers may be required to work outdoors for extended periods of time while others may work indoors in cold and wet conditions.  A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature.  Also, body heat leaves the body more rapidly when temperatures drop below normal and wind speeds increase.  Keep in mind that air temperature, in combination with wind speed, provides a “wind chill” factor which causes a decrease in air temperature felt by the body on exposed skin. Cold stress occurs by cold conditions lowering skin temperatures and eventually internal body temperature (core temperature). This may lead to sickness, serious health problems, and in some cases cause tissue damage.
Factors that contribute to cold stress are:

  • Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly, and exhaustion
  • Pre-existing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes
  • Poor physical conditioning

Employers are responsible to take the necessary steps to provide employees a place of employment, free from recognized hazards, including cold stress.  To maintain the standards set forth by OSHA, it is recommended the employer implements the following work practices to maintain employee safety in cold temperatures.

  • Train workers on how to recognize and prevent cold stress injuries and illnesses.
  • Provide engineering controls, i.e. radiant heaters in departments where employees can go to get warm.
  • Use safe work practices such as providing warm, sweetened liquids for workers to prevent dehydration.  Also, consider a more frequent break schedule so that workers may get warm and hydrate.
  • Dressing properly is extremely important in cold atmospheres.  Recommend employees wear the following: 

– At least 3 layers of clothing with the two inner layers of wool, silk or synthetic and the outer layer with wind and rain protection.

– Wear a hat or hood to reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from the head.

– If needed, use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth.

– Use insulated gloves.

– Wear insulated and waterproof boots.

Proactive Safety Beats Reactive Safety:  Stay Warm


About the Author:  Christopher J. Zanetti is the President of EDMC Safety & Health, a consulting firm assisting employers with OSHA compliance. Our firm specializes in serving the safety and health needs of General Industry with a client emphasis in the automotive, hospitality and dental industries throughout Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio and Northern West Virginia regions.  The overall mission of EDMC Safety & Health is to assist clients in establishing and maintaining a workplace free from recognized hazards. Our on-site safety training and programs meet OSHA regulations and encourage best practices for safety and health in the workplace.

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