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Cold Safety and Ice Alert: Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is “cold stress”?


Workers working in winter weather with considerably low temperatures are often at the risk of cold stress. Cold stress is the condition that drives down the skin temperature and consequently the core body temperature, exposing the body to the possibility of several cold-related illnesses and injuries including permanent tissue damage and even death. Factors leading to cold stress and its effect on the body vary across regions based on winter tolerance, and it may manifest in the form of hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. 

This OSHA guide provides detailed information on cold stress and how it can be prevented. This NIOSH Fast Facts sheet also provides some rather useful information about cold stress and how to protect oneself from it. 

Q. What are winter-related work hazards and how can these be prevented?


Working in cold conditions can lead to a variety of hazards if caution is not exercised. These hazards include the risks associated with cold stress, the risk of slipping and tripping on wet/icy surfaces, falling through ice, risk of electrocution or electric shocks while operating powered equipment, and driving on snow/ice-covered roads - the vehicle may skid or you may lose control of it. 

These hazards can be prevented by taking proper precautions such as dressing in appropriate warm clothing, wearing snow-suitable footwear and walking carefully to avoid slips and trips, ensuring all powered equipment is properly grounded, and making sure that your vehicle is suitable for driving on snow/ice-covered roads. This OSHA resource provides a lot of useful information about staying safe during winters, and here you can find important information about working safely in ice alert conditions and cold weather . You should also follow the information provided by the CDC to stay safe and healthy in winters.

Q. Is there an OSHA standard specific to winters?


 While there is no specific OSHA standard around working in winters, OSHA does provide several resources that cover everything from winter workplace hazards, precautions, and preparedness among others. It also identifies the employers’ duty to protect their workers from cold stress hazards as part of the OSH Act of 1970

Q. What steps can employers take for the safety of employees working in cold conditions?


According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, employers should implement a cold-related illness and injury prevention program and implement preventive measures including engineering controls and work/rest schedules, train workers about cold-related workplace hazards, and provide workers with appropriate cold-weather gear. More details can be read on the CDC Website

Similarly, OSHA’s winter workplace preparedness guidelines also focus on training workers, implementing engineering controls, and establishing safe work practices such as providing workers with appropriate tools and equipment, limiting outdoor time, scheduling jobs according to warmer and colder times of the day and pushing repair and maintenance tasks to warmer months, proving warm break areas and warm beverages, and so on.

Q. Are employers required to provide their employees with winter-specific PPE?

There is no specific OSHA requirement for employers to provide workers with winter-specific PPE or clothing and other supplies such as skin creams, sunglasses, rubber boots, or other items. However, many employers do provide their workers with winter gear such as coats, jackets, and gloves as basic work necessities in cold weather.
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