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Cold Weather

How to Avoid Injuries and Illness When Temperatures Plummet

Limiting a worker’s exposure to cold can go a long way toward preventing cold stress injuries and illnesses such as frostbite, hypothermia, trench foot, and chilblains.  Three major factors to keep in mind when working outdoors are air temperature, wind, and moisture. Exposed skin is in danger of freezing within one minute when the temperature is 10 degrees and there is a wind of around 20 mph. Wet conditions greatly increase the potential for frostbite or hypothermia. Moisture on the skin and any wind can cause the body to lose heat.

Dressing properly for the cold is critical for workers.  Experts recommend using breathable layers, making sure clothing is not so tight it cuts off circulation or impedes movement.  Be aware that PPE may restrict some movements. Layering also allows workers to remove clothing if they become too warm from exertion or changing weather conditions. Layering clothing provides a worker with better insulation against the cold because the body warms trapped air between the layers. If the fabric is breathable it will keep perspiration from building up on the skin and pulling away needed body heat. Wearing a hat or hood is also recommended, to decrease the loss of body heat escaping from the head. Knitted hats that cover the ears and at least part of the face will likely keep a worker warmer than a ball cap.

Regarding footwear, experts suggest insulated, waterproof boots with good built-in traction. In extremely cold regions, it is also recommended boots be felt lined, rubber bottomed and leather-topped. Gloves should also be insulated and water resistant.

OSHA doesn’t have a defined standard on working in the cold but states that employers must protect workers from hazards in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The following are recommendations for employers pertaining to protecting employees:

  • Schedule work to be completed during the warmest part of the day

  • Tell workers to use the “buddy system” (nobody works outdoors alone) so they can monitor each other

  • Provide extra workers for longer, more demanding jobs

  • Set up a warm dry shelter for workers to take breaks in out of the cold

  • Provide warm liquids to drink, avoiding caffeine and alcohol

  • Use engineering controls such radiant heaters, if possible

  • Ensure you have a method to communicate with all workers, especially in remote locations

Also advise workers to avoid touching metal surfaces with bare skin, and to bring extra clothing in case they get wet. Have emergency cold weather kits available: blankets, a thermos of a hot beverage, first aid kit with chemical hot packs and a thermometer.

OSHA warns workers to avoid working to fatigue or exhaustion. Stay hydrated and drink as much water as in the summertime. You can get dehydrated even though you don’t feel like you are sweating. It is a common mistake in cold temperatures. People don’t realize heat is escaping their body and taking moisture from the body with it.

Employers must train their workers on the prevention, risks, and symptoms of cold stress. Quick daily reminders are also helpful, especially when the weather is particularly bad. Provide written information concerning the signs and symptoms of frostbite, hypothermia, trench-foot, chilblains, and angina. This information can be easily found on the internet. Employers should remind workers of the symptoms they need to be looking out for, and that it is a time when they must keep a close eye on their co-workers, and make sure everybody is doing “OK”.

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Cold Weather Concerns - Frostbite and Hypothermia

Cold Weather Concerns - Frostbite and Hypothermia

Winter is coming, and prepping workers for cold temperatures should start well before the first snowflakes and ice storms occur. Proper PPE should include multiple layers of protection, both moisture wicking and wind resistant, as well as gloves and hard hat liners.

Dressing improperly, wetness/dampness and preexisting conditions can contribute to cold stress, hypothermia, and frostbite - conditions that occur when the body’s temperature begins to fall to dangerous levels (below 95 degrees F), resulting in tissue damage and even death.

Humidity, wind speed, and air temperature should all be taken into account. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when air temperature is 40 degrees F, the wind speed is 35 mph, and humidity levels are above 50%, the effect on exposed skin is as if the air temperature were in the 20s. 

If a worker is showing signs of hypothermia, the CDC recommends the following steps:

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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Beware the Invisible Killer

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Beware the Invisible Killer

As Seasons Change, Beware the Invisible Killer

More than 400 Americans die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carbon monoxide is produced when fuel is burned in vehicles, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, furnaces and the like.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that often goes undetected, and as the weather turns colder in many parts of the country, it is important to be aware of the risks. Carbon monoxide becomes deadly when it builds up in enclosed spaces - and anyone can be affected.

At Work
Workers in certain professions, including welders, mechanics, firefighters and toll booth attendants are particularly at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, according to OSHA.

To reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace:
•    Install proper ventilation systems
•    Keep equipment in good working order
•    Consider switching from gas to electrical or battery operated equipment
•    Prohibit use of gas-powered engines in poorly ventilated areas
•    Provide personal, audible alarms
•    Educate workers about carbon monoxide poisoning

At Home
About 170 people die each year from carbon monoxide exposure produced by room heaters and home generators, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The National Safety Council recommends installing a battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector.

The CDC offers these and other tips:
•    Professionally service your furnace, water heater and any other fuel-burning devices every year
•    Never use a generator indoors or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent
•    Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year
•    Make sure gas appliances are vented properly
•    Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm; immediately move outside, call 911 and make sure everyone is accounted for
 
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
If you see someone with the following symptoms who may have been poisoned,move the victim outside immediately and call 911. If he or she is not breathing, begin CPR.  Low to Moderate CO Poisoning - headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.  High-level CO Poisoning - mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination and loss of consciousness.

This article is shared from the National Safety Council’s Safety Spotlight.

Contact OMAG Risk Management Services department if you have questions about this or any other workplace safety topic.  Gary Cauthen can be reached at (800) 234-9461 or gcauthen@omag.org.

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Spaceheaters - Hidden Fire Hazard

Spaceheaters - Hidden Fire Hazard

While space heaters are legal and widely used as an alternative heat source, many fire departments do not recommend their use because they pose certain hazards. If you have a space heater, or are considering getting one, consider the following safety tips as vital information for your personal safety as well as for protecting your property. 
 
•    Have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the area where you have a space heater. 
•    Never use fuel burning appliances without proper ventilation. Burning fuel (kerosene, coal, or propane, for example) produces deadly fumes. 
•    Be sure your space heater is in good working condition. All space heaters need frequent check-ups and cleaning. A dirty or neglected heater is a critical fire hazard. Also, space heaters should be UL (United Laboratories) approved and have knock-over shut-off switches. 
•    Use only the proper fuel for each heater. Never introduce a fuel into a heating unit that is not designed for that unit. 
•    Store kerosene, gasoline, or other flammable liquids outside the home or office at all times. 
•    Use an approved safety can for storing all flammable liquids. 
•    Maintain adequate clearance in all directions around space heaters. Give the heater adequate clearance – 3 feet is the minimum – from walls and combustibles, such as clothes, curtains, furniture, files, etc. Also, do not put them under the desk where you cannot see them and may forget to turn them off. 
•    Never leave children unsupervised in a room with a space heater. 
•    If you use an electric heater make sure the wiring is adequate. Avoid using extension cords. Use an approved power strip with a built in circuit breaker. Do not overload the wall plug. 
•    Never cover the heater’s cord with carpeting or furniture. This could cause the cord to overheat and start a fire. 
•    Avoid using electric space heaters in the bathroom. Never touch an electric heater when you are wet. 
•    When refueling a kerosene heater, avoid overfilling it. If cold kerosene is used, it will expand as it warms up inside your office and may cause burner flooding. This could cause flare ups. 
•    Never fill your kerosene heater while it is burning. 
•    Turn off your heater and unplug it before you leave the office at the end of the day. 
•    When using a fuel burning heater, open a window to provide adequate ventilation. 
 
Over 700,00 fires are started worldwide each year by space heaters. Spending a little time thinking about the potential hazards of space heaters may save your building and lives.

Contact OMAG Risk Management Services if you have questions about this or other topics related to municipal workplace safety issues. Kip Prichard can be reached at (800) 234-9461 or kprichard@omag.org.

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