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Protecting Your Workers When It’s Cold

“Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.”

~ Jack London, “To Build a Fire”

The cold weather is getting colder! In recent years, the winters are getting more extreme, especially in regions where people didn’t normally think about wearing a heavy winter coat for more than a week.

Winter weather poses specific health hazards to workers and OSHA is determined to protect them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), relatively few American workers die or miss work as a direct result of exposure to environmental cold but there are still fatalities related to the cold (for example, in 1997 there were 244 cases) and OSHA wants to make sure this number is essentially zero.

Over the past few years, OSHA has set forth a series of guidelines to protect workers in the winter time. Here are some ways they have advised companies to protect their employees:

  • Teach workers the dangers of cold weather

“Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures may cause serious health problems, such as trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold water immersion, exposure can lead to death.”

  • Train workers in the danger signs

“Workers experiencing cold weather-caused illness exhibit uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue, and confused behavior.”

  • Your company needs to consider some precautions

In order to protect your workers from cold weather, OSHA has recommended employers include these steps:

  1. Schedule work in the warmest part of the day
  2. Set up a buddy system where one worker watches the other for signs of cold-weather related illness or injury
  3. Rule out cold weather work for employees with such illnesses as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart and circulations difficulties.
  4. Schedule frequent breaks when employees can come indoors to heated, dry shelters.
  5. Serve up warm, sweet beverages, such as sugar water or sports drinks. Contrary to popular wisdom, avoid coffee, tea and hot chocolate. While these feel good going down, the caffeine magnifies the cold weather effect on their bodies.
  6. Ban alcoholic beverages! They’re even more damaging to the bodies attempts to protect itself.
  7. Advise workers on what clothing to wear. Style should give way to warm, waterproof garments put on in loose layers. The layers trap air between, which is an effective insulator. They also allow the worker to add or remove outerware as the day becomes warmer or colder.
  8. Keep in mind, sometimes protective gear can cause a safety hazard. Workers have been injured and sometimes killed due to heavy wool hats under their hardhats creating impaired hearing and sometimes tunnel vision. Make sure your workers can still hear and see specific warning signals that will save their lives.

Are you looking for training classes for your workers on cold weather or other topics? Contact L.A.W. Construction Safety Consultants, LLC today to see how we can help you protect your workers.

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