Employers Must Protect Employees from Cold Weather Hazards to Be OSHA Compliant

Encountering cold weather hazards is unavoidable in many lines of work, but knowing how to deal with it and react to possible injury or life threatening situations is critical and required by law. This article offers some solid tips to help employers and their workers avoid cold stress.  It is often best if employers train their employees with the help of qualified providers such as LBA University® and others that offer OSHA compliant training.  “A quality Cold Weather Safety course should be packed full of information that helps create awareness of the hazards that are often overlooked,” said LBAU course Certified OSHA Trainer / Consultant Bryan Dixon.

Properly equipped workers are safe cold weather workers!
Properly equipped workers are safe cold weather workers!


LBA University® has heard from some of the most seasoned individuals who brave the cold each day on the job.  Encountering cold weather hazards is unavoidable in many lines of work, but knowing how to deal with it and react to possible injury or life threatening situations is critical.

A broadcast engineer recounted to LBAU an episode where he was surveying a mountain top transmitter site following high winds, rain and snow that left the power out at the site:

“I was walking along a service road at the site, head down watching for hazards, when I walked right into a downed HV utility line dangling from the pole. Had the line been alive I’d most likely be dead. Live (hopefully!) and learn.”

Another worker described how he was part of an assignment that involved towing a TV production trailer up a ski slope and leveling it in the snow using 4 x 4’s.  After an episode of freezing rain, the only way to navigate the slope on foot was with ice cleats.  What transpired next left workers narrowly escaping serious injury or possibly even death on the ice-glazed slope.

“While in preproduction the 4×4’s slipped out from under the 5th wheel area, and the entire 50 foot unit started to turn and slide down the hill and then stopped. The body of the trailer twisted so bad that the one side exit door was wedged shut. They had to bring a bull dozer up and carefully push the unit back into position, and then leave the bull dozer in place before we would think of getting back into the truck.”

A tower worker in Alaska added some perspective to the conversation:

“Here in Fairbanks we get down as low as -70 but that’s ACTUAL temperature and it is unbearable. Working at -20 is quite common but anything below -40 tends to be emergency work only.”

Sometimes the most dangerous hazards might be in the most unexpected places.  A warehouse supervisor provided the perfect example of this:

“Winters are usually mild here in the South, but one early morning on the loading dock after a frigid overnight, I learned quickly how a little water on the loading dock can turn into a big hazard. Let’s just say a one ton pallet on a dolly, water on the dock and freezing temperatures don’t mix. I slip on a patch of ice, lose control of the dolly and off it went over the edge of the dock. Fortunately nobody was in my path and I caught myself only suffering a little embarrassment and a bruised ego.”

Beware this silent killer!
Beware this silent killer!

Some cold weather hazards are not the direct result of the cold, but of the attempt to keep warm. Malfunctioning heaters, improper use of a heater, or lack of sufficient ventilation can be a silent killer. Carbon monoxide produced by the burning of many fuels is odorless and tasteless.  This presents a critical challenge in preventing carbon monoxide poisoning and possibly even death from it. Carbon monoxide poisoning can also be difficult to diagnose as it mimics the symptoms of other common illnesses such as flu and headaches. This is why it is so important to make sure all workers are aware of the dangers and what to do to protect themselves and others.

Businesses that have employees driving company vehicles of any kind should also make sure their workers are trained for winter weather driving.  The roads are dangerous enough these days without adding winter weather to the mix.  They should not only know how to avoid treacherous road conditions but also what to do if it becomes unavoidable or they get stranded in a vehicle.

One person involved in the conversation chimed in with a solution to avoid cold weather hazards:

“I’m a warm weather guy, so I either go farther south or southwest in the winter.”

But, this is not an option for everybody. Whether working on a frozen mountain top tower site, washing windows on a tall building or even working in a warehouse, workers can’t avoid the cold, but they can have a leg-up on avoiding the hazards that come along with cold.  They should also know to do if all else fails and they find themselves or a coworker in distress.  This is why OSHA compliant Cold Weather Hazards Training is so critical.

Safe cold weather work practices are essential
Safe cold weather work practices are essential

Whether your work finds you swaying in the breeze on a tower, dealing with the unpredictable obstacles of a construction site, navigating the unknowns of a rooftop, or even the maze of a cavernous warehouse, the possibility of cold stress and slips and falls are always there.  The list of occupations that can benefit from awareness and education about the hazards winter brings to the job site are nearly endless.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommendations for employers to protect workers from cold stress:

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer months.
  • Schedule cold jobs for the warmer part of the day.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Provide warm liquids to workers.
  • Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
  • Provide cold stress training that includes information about:
      • Worker risk
      • Prevention
      • Symptoms
      • The importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms
      • Treatment
      • Personal protective equipment

It is best to enlist such training from qualified providers such as LBA University and others that offer OSHA compliant courses.  “A quality Cold Weather Safety course should be packed full of information that helps create awareness of the hazards that are often overlooked,” said LBAU Certified OSHA Trainer / Consultant Bryan Dixon. “Through the introduction or refreshing of this information, everyone student is better prepared to eliminate or prevent the encounter with Cold Weather Hazards,” added Dixon.

The CDC also offers tips for workers to help them guard against exposure and injury due to extremely cold temperatures:

  • Wear appropriate clothing.
    • Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
    • Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
    • When choosing clothing, be aware that some clothing may restrict movement resulting in a hazardous situation.
  • Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands and feet in extremely cold weather.
    • Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
    • Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer. (Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.)
  • Move into warm locations during work breaks; limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
  • Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, blankets, a change of clothes and a thermos of hot liquid.
  • Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.

LBA University® encourages all outdoor workers and their employers to understand the critical nature of cold weather safety.  Safety education and awareness is not only good business that saves lives, it’s required by OSHA.  LBAU offers a Cold Exposure Safety course that is available on-line and is very cost effective.  More importantly, the course is OSHA compliant and a certificate is issued upon completion.

Online enrollment and more information on the LBA University® Cold Exposure Safety course is available at: https://www.lbauniversity.org/course/cw1004-cold-weather/, or contact us at 252-757-0279 or lbau@lbagroup.com.

To keep up with all of the conversations taking place at LBA University, like LBAU on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/LBAUniversity.

About The Author

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David Horn is an award-winning business and marketing development specialist with LBA Group, Inc. He helps some of the largest companies in the country implement regulatory compliance programs. LBA also utilizes his decades of experience in communications and new media to supplement the global marketing initiatives of the company. He specializes in turning complex topics into informative and entertaining stories.

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