Chances are, if you’re in the United States right now, you’re experiencing extreme cold, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Cold stress during the winter months can be extremely hazardous, especially to employees who work outside most of the day. The proper precautions must be in place to keep workers safe, alert, and efficient during their shift.
There are many ways to identify cold stress, and OSHA’s cold stress card is an excellent place to start. OSHA identifies three common types of cold stress and how to prevent them.
- Body temperature drops below normal (98.6°F) to 95°F or less
- Mild symptoms include alert but shivering
- Moderate to severe symptoms include ceased shivering, confusion, slurred speech, shallow breathing, low heart rate, loss of consciousness, and death
- Body tissues freeze, especially in the extremities (e.g., hands and feet). It can occur at temperatures above freezing, due to wind chill, and may result in amputation
- Symptoms include numbness, reddened skin, blisters, skin redness progressing to gray/white patches, and skin feeling firm/hard
- Non-freezing injury to the foot caused by lengthy exposure to wet, cold environments. It can occur at air temperatures as high as 60°F if feet are constantly wet
- Symptoms include redness, swelling, numbness, and blisters
Although some of these conditions are more serious than others, you can prevent them with proper planning, clothing, and equipment. If your employees work outside in the winter, discuss taking adequate steps to protect their health. Educating your workforce on the dangers of cold stress is critical.
Limit your exposure to the cold. Work in shifts and encourage your employees to take warming breaks. Scheduling the bulk of your work around the warmest part of the day will help you get more work done with limited exposure.
Wear layers. Layer appropriately for the coldest temperatures of the day. A jacket, hat, gloves, and boots are essential. If the temperature rises, you can remove layers as needed. It is always a good idea to have more clothing that you can remove rather than less. Remember that wind chill causes heat to leave the body more quickly. Protect yourself with an outer shell layer to mitigate this risk.
Be aware of your surroundings. Before you start your workday, inspect the job site for ice and snow buildup. Remove these before working and appropriately salt any icy areas. Slip trip and fall injuries are also very common in the winter months due to the conditions of walkways.
Educate yourself. Knowing the signs of cold stress can mean the difference between life and death in certain situations. While coffee might become a source of heat during cold, winter months, the caffeine increases your heart rate and can trick you into thinking you are warm when you are not. Monitor your employees throughout the day and make sure they are hydrated, appropriately dressed, and taking adequate breaks.
The more a person knows about the dangers, the more likely they will wear the correct clothing, limit their exposure, and take the cold temperatures more seriously. Speak with your Safety Director to learn about the dangers of cold stress and to ask any questions you may have on gear, working hours, training, and more.
We understand how quickly extreme conditions can become life-threatening. We can help you assess your current situation and address your needs. We’ll design solutions to help you protect your workforce from cold stress and other hazards. Contact us today!