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Baby, It's Cold Outside

January 2, 2018
The worst cold snap in more than a century reminds us that winter can bring on cold stress if your business involves outdoor work or exposure to the cold (e.g. loading dock, driving).
There are several steps that employers can take to help employees cope with the frigid temperatures, which meteorologists predict will last into next week.
Train workers:
  • how to recognize the symptoms of cold stress, prevent cold stress injuries and illnesses;
  • to self-monitor and monitor coworkers for symptoms;
  • to administer first aid and to call for additional medical assistance in an emergency; and
  • to select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions
Detailed information on cold stress and how to cope with it is available from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Adopt Safe Work Practices
Depending on your business these may include:
  • Providing workers with the proper tools and equipment to do their jobs.
  • Developing work plans that identify potential hazards and the safety measures to protect workers.
  • Scheduling maintenance and repair jobs for warmer months.
  • Scheduling jobs that expose workers to the cold weather in the warmer part of the day.
  • Avoiding exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible.
  • Limiting the amount of time spent outdoors on extremely cold days.
  • Using relief workers to assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Providing warm areas for use during break periods.
  • Providing warm liquids (no alcohol) to workers.
  • Monitoring workers who are at risk of cold stress.
  • Monitoring the weather conditions during a winter storm, having a reliable means of communicating with workers and being able to stop work or evacuate when necessary.
  • Gradually acclimatizing new and returning workers by slowly increasing their workload, and allowing more frequent breaks in warm areas, as they get accustomed to working in the cold.
  • Having a means of communicating with workers, especially in remote areas.
  • Knowing how the community warns the public about severe weather: outdoor sirens, radio, and television.
Warm Protective Clothing
OSHA does not require personal protective equipment (PPE) for the cold, but it may make sense for you to do so. Items such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen should be considered.
Dressing Properly for the Cold
Turns out your mother was right when she told you to dress in layers to help ward off the cold. Some suggestions from OSHA include:
Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing:
  • An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic (polypropylene) to keep moisture away from the body. Thermal wear, wool, silk or polypropylene, inner layers of clothing that will hold more body heat than cotton.
  • A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
  • An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
Safety Tips for Workers
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
  • Dress appropriately for the cold.
  • Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body.
  • Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change.
  • Drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol).
If you have any questions about this or any other HR issue, please call the AIM Employer Hotline at 1-800-470-6277. 
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