When working in cold weather, employers and workers must take certain necessary precautions to prevent serious health problems such as frostbite, trenchfoot, and hypothermia. Prolonged exposure and cold water immersion can even be fatal. Danger signs such as uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue, and confused behavior call for emergency help.

OSHA has provided a reference guide and recommendations to combat and prevent many cold-related injuries and illnesses in its Cold Stress Card. This laminated card includes a number of tips on how to protect workers. It also includes symptoms and treatment of frostbite (see box below) and hypothermia. The card, in English or Spanish, is available free at www.osha.gov or 800-321-OSHA.

Employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful work-place for their employees. Here are some tips for protecting workers from excessive cold.

  • Recognize dangerous conditions.
  • Learn signs and symptoms of cold-induced illness and injuries and what to do to help workers.
  • Train workers to recognize these symptoms and solutions as well.
  • Encourage proper layered clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
  • Provide frequent short breaks in a warm, dry shelter.
  • Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
  • Work in pairs so workers can observe each other.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Eat warm high-calorie foods like pasta.
  • Be aware of risks involved with certain medications and illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration