Tips for Working Safely in Cold Weather

Feb. 1, 2007
With much of the eastern half of the nation in the clutches of a deep freeze, the Maine Department of Labor is reminding workers and employers to take precautions to prevent cold weather-related health problems.

"Maine has many occupations that involve working in very cold conditions," Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said. "Men and women who work in construction, fishing, farming, and road clearing, as well as people who work in the woods, should take precautions to protect themselves from the elements."

According to OSHA, prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures can cause serious health problems such as trench foot, frostbite, hypothermia and, in extreme cases, death. Workers face an increased risk of cold-related health problems when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

OSHA's Cold Stress card – in English and in Spanish – provides a reference guide and recommendations to combat and prevent many illnesses and injuries due to cold stress.

Tips include:

  • Recognize conditions that can lead to prolonged exposure to cold.
  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do if they occur.
  • Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. If these signs are observed, call for emergency help.
  • Wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
  • Take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow your body to warm up.
  • Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue, because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
  • Use the buddy system - work in pairs so one worker can recognize danger signs.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas and hot chocolate) or alcohol.
  • Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes.

For free copies of OSHA's Cold Stress card, visit the OSHA Web site.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!