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December 10, 2009

Winter Workplace Safety

With the onset of cold weather, it's time to think about preventing cold-related health problems and accidents. But some indoor health risks also increase during cold weather. Here's how to help keep your workers safe indoors and out this winter.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless killer, and more than 60 percent of CO poisoning cases occur during the fall and winter months. So before you close up your workplace to keep out the cold, be sure your heaters and boilers are vented properly and operating safely.

CO is commonly associated with gas furnaces, boilers, water or space heaters and propane-powered forklifts. When doors, windows and other sources of fresh air are closed to keep in the heat, they also keep in any CO in the air. Employee training and safety signs can remind workers to be alert to CO hazards. You may have a carbon monoxide detector in your home, but what about your office or warehouse?

Cold temperatures, wet weather and shorter daylight hours increase the potential for worksite accidents. Prolonged exposure to freezing or cold temperatures can cause serious health problems including trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. Risks increase for workers taking certain medications or suffering from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease. Ice or snow falling from roofs is another common danger that can be addresssed with safety signs.

What constitutes "cold stress" varies across the country. In regions unaccustomed to cold weather, near-freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress, while folks in colder climates might consider the same temperatures a warm-up. Migrant workers or others who are new to your area may not be familiar with winter weather and need training about dressing for winter weather.

To avoid accidents:

  • Establish a procedure for spreading salt or sand on icy walks
  • Monitor ice and snow buildup on roofs above walkways
  • Check ladders and scaffolds for ice
  • Regularly clean windows and lights on vehicles and construction equipment so operators can safely see and be seen

To protect workers from cold stress:

  • Schedule cold jobs for the warmer part of the day
  • Reduce physical demands on 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

Learn more with these links:
Blue_Bullet_Small2 Read the CDC Carbon Monoxide fact sheet.
Blue_Bullet_Small2 Review NIOSH Cold Stress information.
Blue_Bullet_Small2 Download OSHA's Cold Stress Card with guidelines and recommendations for preventing cold weather-induced illnesses and injuries in English or Spanish.
Blue_Bullet_Small2 Download the Minnesota Dept. of Public Safety winter survival tips brochure.

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