Don’t assume there is no need to prepare for working safely in the cold this year, because of the moderate temperatures in much of the country so far. According to the National Weather Service, the long-range weather forecast predicts chillier temperatures than average in January and February in the Southern Plains and the Southeast. Cold weather can bring on health emergencies for people who may be susceptible as a result of their working environment, such as those who work outdoors or in an area that is poorly insulated or without heat.
Workers who are exposed to extreme cold or cold environments may be at risk of cold stress. What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, near-freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can more rapidly leave your body, leading to cold-related injuries and illnesses.
These conditions include hypothermia, cold water immersion , frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains. NIOSH provides information about cold stress on its topic page and on a Fast Facts card, which describes symptoms, first aid, and recommendations for prevention. The following tips from the NIOSH website can help employers and workers avoid the dangers of cold stress.
Tips for Employers
- Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer months.
- Schedule cold jobs for the warmest part of the day.
- Reduce the physical demands of workers.
- Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
- Provide warm liquids to workers.
- Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
- Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
- Provide cold stress training.
- Workers should avoid exposure to extremely cold temperatures whenever possible and can follow these recommendations to protect themselves from cold stress.
- Wear appropriate clothing.
- Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
- Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
- Choose clothing that won’t restrict movement, which could lead to a hazardous situation.
- Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands, and feet in extremely cold weather.
- Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
- Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer.
- Move into warm locations during work breaks; limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
- Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, and blankets; a change of clothes; and a thermos of hot liquid.
- Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
- Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
- Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.