Personal Protective Equipment

Protecting Workers in Cold Weather: What Your Company Can Do

Protecting workers in cold weather takes specific steps. OSHA has provided a list. And America’s eye doctors have added to it.

Unless your workplace is located in places like California, Florida, or (“Dream on!”) Hawaii, you and your workers have to deal with winter.

And following a pattern of extreme weather in recent years, what a winter it’s been! Storm after storm has dumped ice and snow across the nation, and freezing temperatures have cemented it in place, probably until spring.


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Winter presents specific health hazards to your workers, As a safety professional, that makes it your business. It’s also the business of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which recently set forth a series of guidelines to protect workers in winter.

Here’s some of what they advised companies can do:

–First, teach workers the dangers. “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.”

–Second, train in the danger signs. Workers experiencing cold weather-caused illness exhibit uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue, and confused behavior.

–Third, consider these precautions. Some of the recommendations the agency makes to employers include these steps:

–Schedule work in the warmest part of the day.
–Set up a buddy system, where one worker watches the other for signs of cold-weather caused illness or injury.
–Rule out cold weather work for employees with such illnesses as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart and circulation difficulties.
–Schedule frequent breaks when employees can come indoors to heated, dry shelters.
–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.
–Ban alcoholic beverages! They’re even more damaging to the body’s attempts to protect itself.
–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. As any skier knows, it can be quite warm, even on a cold day, when under direct sunlight with little wind.

Looking at eye protection

One area OSHA did not touch on in discussing winter weather protection is eye care. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has filled that information gap with this added information to provide to workers:


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AAO notes that winter air is very dry, which can rob moisture from the delicate membranes of the eye. For that reason, they suggest use of a humidifier while indoors, and hooded jackets and wraparound sunglasses or goggles while outside. These prevent the wind from air-drying the eyes. A good eye cream helps, too.

This lack of moisture in the air poses a special hazard for contact lens wearers. “Soft lenses, especially, are like little sponges,” explains AAO. “They need lots of moisture. If they dry out, they can stick to the eye, becoming painful and cloudy.”

AAO finally reminds that winter sun can be very bright, with even more light reflected off a snowy landscape. To protect against harmful radiation, they recommend sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays. Overexposure to UV can lead to cataracts or photokeratitis, a kind of sunburn of the eye.

Useful information all, but now that you’ve got it, the question is how do you effectively train your workers on it? We’ll answer that question in tomorrow’s Safety Daily Advisor.

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