As Philadelphia winter weather arrives, there is plenty of cause for concern about health risks of cold weather for those working jobs outdoors. From telephone repairmen and line installers to other field repairmen to those who shovel snow to construction workers completing repairs outdoors, there are plenty of employees who must regularly brave winter weather to do their jobs every day. Protecting these employees from workplace injuries due to cold is an important obligation for employers, who should make sure those who work outdoors take plenty of rest breaks and wear appropriately warm clothing.
Those who work outside, however, are not the only ones who could face a risk of harm due to lower temperatures in their work environment. Safety BLR warns in a recent article about the often-overlooked dangers of people who work in cold environments indoors.
Keeping Workers Safe in Cold Indoor Environments
National Institute for Occupational Safety recognizes the unique risks faced by workers who do their work in cold indoor environments. This includes people like food preparation workers, employees of airline catering facilities, and other who work in refrigerated rooms or cool spaces.
A case study was conducted on employees within these environments, and the study found the employees had a number of health risks due to their exposure to cold. Employees reported discomfort due to low air temperatures, air drafts exacerbating their discomfort, and insufficient use of gloves when performing tasks which require manual dexterity. Employees also reported a lack of safety training aimed at helping them to avoid harm from working in a cold room.
NIOSH has recommendations for employers whose workers operate under these chilly conditions. Suggestions include:
- Installing equipment which can reduce condensation and limit drafts so employees do not have to deal with wet clothing or bursts of cold air when already working in chilly areas.
- Encouraging and providing time for workers to change out of clothes which become wet due to work in a damp, cold room.
- Providing and having employees wear gloves without fingertips or thinner gloves under required plastic gloves in food preparation jobs so they can achieve protection from the cold and maintain manual dexterity necessary to do their jobs.
- Rotating workers between warmer and cold areas so workers get a break in warmer locations.
- Offering hand warmers located outside of cold rooms so employees can comfortably warm their hands on a periodic basis.
- Minimizing the amount of work requiring manual dexterity actually being done in cold rooms.
- Ensure employees receive appropriate education on the risks of cold stress.
It is up to employers to provide sufficient training and protective equipment to prevent injuries and illnesses caused by exposure to excessive cold, whether that exposure occurs indoors or out. Employees who work in cold environments should understand their rights and make complaints if they are excessively cold or report injuries that occur due to their work in chilly spaces.