Environmental cold can affect any worker exposed to cold air temperatures and puts workers at risk of cold stress. As wind speed increases, it causes the cold air temperature to feel even colder, increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed workers, especially those working outdoors, such as recreational workers, snow cleanup crews, construction workers, police officers and firefighters.
Frostbite results from exposure to severe cold. The nose, cheeks, ears, toes, and fingers are the parts most frequently frostbitten.
Symptoms: Frostbite is more likely to occur when a high wind is blowing that takes heat from the body rapidly. Usually frostbite is not associated with pain but rather with a feeling of intense coldness and numbness.
Depending on where you reside and work this season, Old Man Winter might be knocking on your door, bringing you snow, ice, and chilling temperatures. For those in warmer areas of the country, it may be difficult to imagine some winter weather extremes. For instance, according to the NOAA National Climate Extremes Committee, the existing record for lowest temperature in the United States was -80°F (-62.2°C) in Prospect Creek, Alaska, in 1971.
If outdoor workers are outfitted with proper PPE, their risks of getting hypothermia, frostbite, or catching a cold are greatly diminished. A side benefit of wearing proper PPE in harsh elements is that workers are more comfortable, which helps to improve performance and productivity.
Whether you’re de-icing a plane in Chicago, or you’re a snow blower in upstate New York, or a commercial fisherman in Alaska or Canada, all outdoor workers must be aware of the risks and dangers associated with cold weather.
For many, a sweater or an extra degree on the thermostat is all that’s needed to keep warm at work on a cold day. Not so for those working outside or in an area that is poorly insulated or without heat.
Hypothermia - When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.
Winter weather creates a variety of hazards that can significantly impact everyday tasks and work activities. These hazards include slippery roads/surfaces, strong winds and environmental cold. Learning how to prepare for work during the winter, protect workers from the cold and other hazards that can cause illnesses, injuries, or fatalities, is essential to maintaining a safe work environment and completing tasks successfully.
When Mother Nature whips up a wicked winter wind-chill factor it creates a real health risk for outdoor workers if they don’t take precautions against what OSHA calls “cold stress”: hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot—a nonfreezing injury to wet, cold feet.