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Is Your Company Keeping Workers Safe From Extreme Cold?

  • Recent frigid weather conditions offer a reminder about the need for businesses to protect workers from cold stress
  • OSHA identifies risk factors as well as steps to reduce risks to workers in cold environments
  • Hydration, frequent warming breaks, and other strategies

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

Recent frigid weather conditions in New England offer a reminder to businesses that they have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their workers during extreme cold.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have any rules on working in cold environments, though it is currently working to develop rules on extreme heat conditions. OSHA does say that workplaces should be free of hazards such as cold stress that can cause physical harm.

Risk factors that can create or worsen cold stress include dampness, exhaustion, pre-existing health conditions, improper dress, or poor physical conditioning when working in cold environments. OSHA recommends the following steps to reduce risks in cold environments:

  • Radiant heaters be used to keep workers warm when they are in places like outdoor security stations, and work areas should be shielded from drafts and wind when possible
  • Other recommendations include providing ample fluids to avoid dehydration (especially warm, sweetened liquids), having people work in pairs to keep eye out for cold stress signs, and allowing frequent breaks for workers to get to a warmer area
  • Adequate dress for cold environments includes three layers of loosely fitting clothing, a hat or hood, and insulated boots and gloves
  • Employers should educate workers on appropriate engineering controls for cold environments, personal protective equipment, and work practices to reduce the risk of cold stress

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