Just as working in extremely hot temperatures affects your workers, working outside in the cold weather does, too; especially when temperatures get extreme.

Anyone working in a cold environment for extended periods of time may be at risk of cold stress. Examples include: snow cleanup crews, sanitation workers, police officers, emergency responders, baggage handlers, fire fighters, and more.

How Cold is Too Cold?

Winter weather presents many hazards that outdoor workers must contend with, from slippery roads and walking surfaces to increasing wind speeds that can cause cold air temperatures to feel even colder.

“Wind chill is the temperature the body feels when air temperature and wind speed are combined.” For example, when the air temperature is 40 degrees F, and the wind speed is 35 mph, the effect on the exposed skin is as if the air temperature was 28 degrees F.

Know the wind chill temperature your employees are working in so you can determine their exposure to these hazards.

cold weather work

How Cold Temperatures Affect the Body

Outdoor workers should understand what cold temperatures can do to the body. Working in the cold forces your body to work harder to maintain its temperature because heat leaves the body more rapidly while out in the cold temperatures.

Cold stress drives down the skin temperature. Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures increases the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and even death.

The effects of cold stress include:

• Numbness in the extremities
• uncontrolled shivering
• slurred speech
• clumsy movements, losing coordination and fumbling with items in the hand
• fatigue
• confused or disoriented behavior
• unable to walk or stand
• heart rate/breathing slowing down
• loss of consciousness

Occupational Safety Working in Cold Temperatures

OSHA may not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, but employers have a responsibility to provide employees with an environment free from hazards. Working in freezing temperatures is a hazard in which engineering controls and safe work practices can help protect your workers.

• Train workers about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
• Ensure workers wear proper clothing for the weather.
• Require workers to take frequent short breaks.
• Use the buddy system so that one worker may be able to recognize the signs of cold stress in the other
• Stay hydrated
• Do minor exercises to maintain good blood circulation in the body (clapping hands, moving arms and legs)

Here are some other tip resources for you:

• OSHA Tips to Protect Workers in Cold Environments
• Keeping the Chill Out: Working Safe in Cold Weather
7 Tips for Working in Extreme Cold
Working in Extreme Cold

Cold Stress Resources