Winter is upon us, which means a dramatic change in the weather for many parts of the United States. For workers in the field exposed to colder temperatures, it means an increased risk of injury-related to cold stress (environmental cold). Cold related lost time injuries were up dramatically over the past two years, which may be no different this year.1
Currently, OSHA does not have a specific standard for work in cold environments, but the Federal OSHA General Duty Clause Section 5(a)1 states: "Each employer shall furnish to each of his employee's employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees." 2
In essence, this clause means the employer must protect workers from all workplace hazards, including cold environmental conditions. To accomplish this, workers should be trained and educated by their employers regarding the hazards, symptoms, and protective measures related to cold weather. Although engineering controls are always the preferred method for hazard control (portable heaters, for example), many of the recommendations involve proper clothing and personal protective equipment. Waterproof, wind-resistant, and layering are effective ways to protect from the cold.1
Cold stress symptoms are a must training topic and should be well understood by all those on a work crew. Hypothermia is perhaps the most well-known hazard and becomes dangerous when the internal body temperature reaches 95 degrees F and below. Other conditions resulting from excessive cold are:
All of these conditions have specific symptoms and first aid treatments. The CDC and NIOSH have some excellent resources that further expand on these topics.3 Federal OSHA has a web page with some useful resources and training materials that address cold-weather hazards; a link has been placed at the end of this article.4
Driving in winter conditions may sometimes be overlooked as a risk, but don't be fooled; it can pose challenges. Drivers should be trained and educated on why driving conditions in winter weather pose more significant risks. A complete fleet safety program should include regular inspections of all parts of a company vehicle. For example, in snow and ice, poor tire condition may create a magnified hazard as opposed to driving in dry conditions.5
Vehicles should also be equipped with an emergency kit, especially important if a person becomes stranded in a vehicle. Items to have would include; cellphone or two-way radio, windshield ice scraper, snow brush, flashlight with extra batteries, shovel, tow chain, traction chain, traction aids, emergency flares, jumper cables, snacks, water, road maps, blankets, and a change of clothes.
If stranded, don't leave the vehicle and look for assistance. Heavy snows and winds may make it more difficult for personnel to perform a rescue. Stay in the vehicle and call for emergency assistance. Starting your vehicle regularly can provide warmth until help arrives.5
In summary, cold environments pose a real hazard to workers, which should be addressed through training and education. The links below go into further details and provide quality resources and topics to assist in training workers.
This material is intended to be a broad overview of the subject matter and is provided for informational purposes only. Old Republic Contractors Insurance Group, Inc. does not endorse or recommend any products or services nor does it make any representation or warranty regarding the accuracy or completeness of the information. Old Republic Contractors Insurance Group, Inc. shall have no liability or responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss, action or inaction alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the information contained herein.