As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says, “low temperatures plus wind speed and wetness equals injuries and illnesses.” In Part I of this series, we highlighted the workplace dangers of cold stress—from trench foot to hypothermia. This week, we’re back with more information about how employers and workers can help protect against cold stress and its negative health effects:
- Make training a priority: Employers should train their workers to recognize conditions that may lead to cold stress, as well as symptoms, prevention methods (i.e., proper clothing or personal protective gear) and important first aid procedures.
- Be aware of physical conditions: Supervisors and workers should always monitor each other’s physical conditions. OSHA recommends implementing a “buddy system” so colleagues can help look out for signs of cold stress. With cold temperatures, employers should also make available warm beverages; engineering controls such as radiant heaters; and proper first-aid kits with thermometers and chemical hot packs.
- Think ahead: Help protect against cold stress by scheduling outdoor work during the warmest part of the day and implementing regular breaks for employees in warm, dry areas. For those workers who are still acclimating to the cold, gradually increase their workloads and allow for even more frequent breaks in warm areas so they can gradually build up their tolerance.
- Dress properly: Workers should wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing when working in the cold. OSHA recommends an inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic to keep moisture away from the body; a middle layer of synthetic; an outer wind and rain protection layer with ventilation; a hat or hood; insulated and waterproof boots; and, if needed, insulated gloves and a knit mask. Workers should always pack extra clothes in case their clothes get wet and they need to be changed.