December 21st, 2017 – As the temperature decreases and wind speed picks up, the potential for cold stress-related illnesses and injuries increases. Thermal cold stress includes injuries or illnesses caused when a person is exposed to reduced temperature conditions directly affecting an individual’s ability to function in a normal manner.
These illnesses and injuries can include:
- Frostbite (rare cases can lead to amputation of extremities such as toes, fingers, ears or nose)
Once the body temperature falls to around 85°F, severe hypothermia will develop and the person may become unconscious. At 78°F, vital organs may begin to fail. Hypothermia can ultimately cause death.
Warning signs of cold stress include:
- Employee(s) beginning to shiver
- Loss of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Loss of dexterity/fumbling with items in the hand
- Pale and cold skin
- Lowering of the body temperature
Currently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have a specific standard for heat or cold stress. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 General Duty Clause states:
“Each employer shall furnish to each of its employees 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.”
Cold stress prevention methods include:
- Acclimation – allowing time for the employee to get used to the working conditions
- Engineering Controls – using heaters or appropriate ventilation to warm the work area, remove ice, snow, and standing water
- Safe Work Practices – taking breaks in warm areas, scheduling work for warmer temperatures and employee training
- Selection and Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – dressing appropriately for the weather such wearing insulated headgear/hardhat, insulated boots, and changing out of wet clothing
- Worker Awareness – make sure your team knows the risks and safety considerations related to cold weather
Consider downloading the Working Safely in Cold Weather poster linked below to educate your employees or contact your North Risk Partners advisor about developing a cold stress program specific to the risks of your operation. Don’t have an advisor? No problem. We’ll help you find one.
Working Safely in Cold Weather
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This blog post is not intended to be exhaustive. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice. Content provided by our consulting partners at Integrated Loss Control.