First published by Safety+Health an NSC publication.
Photo: Missouri Department of Transportation
Lost-time injuries and illnesses resulting from “environmental cold” spiked nearly 142% in 2018 – soaring to 290 cases from 120 the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those cases, plus the 280 reported in 2019, are a likely indicator of a lack of employer and worker understanding about the dangers of cold stress.
What are the dangers?
Along with air temperature, wind and moisture can create issues for employees working in the cold. Water, including sweat, can displace body heat 25 times faster than dry air, according to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety.
Likewise, wind can blow away the body’s protective external layer of heat. This is why wind chill is an important factor to understand. So, for example, when the temperature is 25° F and the wind is blowing 25 mph, the wind chill is 9° F, resulting in more dangerous conditions.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists used air temperature and wind speed to develop three thresholds of cold stress hazards: Little danger: Freezing of exposed skin within one hour Danger: Freezing of exposed skin within one minute Extreme danger: Freezing of exposed skin within 30 seconds
With no wind, the temperature can drop to -20° F and still pose little danger to workers. But if the wind speed reaches 20 mph or more, then the danger threshold moves up to 10° F.
ACGIH also developed a work/warm-up schedule for four-hour shifts (available on OSHA’s website at osha.gov/dts/weather/winter_weather). On this sliding scale, no noticeable wind and an air temperature between -25° and -29° F translates to a maximum work period of 75 minutes. However, if the wind reaches 20 mph or more and the temperature is between -15° and -19° F, the maximum work period is 40 minutes. At -25° F or colder and with a wind speed at the same 20 mph or greater, ACGIH recommends that all non-emergency work stop.
Martin Tirado, CEO of the Snow and Ice Management Association, said a good rule of thumb is a 15-minute break for every hour of work. When the temperature dips below zero, workers should have shorter work periods with a break that’s equal in length (i.e., work for five minutes and warm up for five minutes). Continue reading»
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Image: Missouri Department of Transportation/Flickr
Oakland, CA — Employers are responsible for protecting workers from heat illness, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health – also known as Cal/OSHA – reiterates in a recent reminder.
Since 2005, the state has had a heat illness prevention standard for all outdoor workers, including those in agriculture, construction and landscaping. Also protected under the standard are those who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, such as security guards and groundskeepers, or in non-air-conditioned vehicles such as transportation and delivery drivers.
Under the standard, employers must:
Develop and implement an effective written heat illness prevention plan that includes emergency response procedures.
Provide instruction on heat illness prevention to all supervisors and employees.
Make available drinking water that is fresh, pure and suitably cool, and encourage workers to drink at least 1 quart per hour.
Make sure shade is available when temperatures exceed 80° F or when workers request it, and encourage rest breaks.
Employers also should consider heat illness mitigation strategies while implementing required measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including allowing appropriate time and space for workers to take breaks while maintaining physical distancing protocol. Further, employers should provide cloth facial coverings or allow workers to use their own.
“Employers should be aware that wearing face coverings can make it more difficult to breathe and harder for a worker to cool off, so additional breaks may be needed to prevent overheating,” Cal/OSHA says in a May 26 press release, adding that agricultural and other outdoor workers are not encouraged to wear surgical or respirator masks as facial coverings.
The agency has published a sample document employers can use to develop a heat illness prevention plan.