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'Boss, it's cold outside!' - Working safely in cold weather

The so-called "Polar Vortex" phenomenon may now be complete, but the cold, harsh days of winter are far from over. For workers who labor outdoors year-round, the idea that spring is months away can be disheartening. When temperatures drop dramatically, when icy conditions make surfaces slick and when snowy conditions decrease visibility, outdoor workers can suffer a greater risk of sustaining work-related injuries and illnesses than they ordinarily would.

As a result, it is critical that employers and workers alike take care to ensure that worksites are run in ways that make cold-weather conditions safer for individuals who must labor outdoors. In particular, employers and workers should guard against the hazards associated with cold stress.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently published information online about the dangers of cold stress. OSHA’s director of technical support and emergency management noted in the online piece that affected workers should pay attention to four critical factors that may contribute to a higher risk of cold stress. These factors include: damp air, cold temperatures, contact with cold surfaces or water, and high velocity air movement.

She noted that when cold stress takes a toll on the body, the consequences could be fatal. Specifically, she warned that, “When the body is unable to warm itself, cold-related stress may result in tissue damage and possibly death.” As a result, employers and workers should research both cold stress itself and how to protect against it. OSHA’s website contains a wind chill chart and other tools that affected workers can use to help guard against preventable cold stress.

Source: EHS Today, "How Cold Is Too Cold? Tips to Protect Outdoor Workers," Sandy Smith, Jan. 8, 2014

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