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Chilled Signals

04 January, 2024

A worker in a snowy oil field speaking into a radio while pointing at equipment

Safeguarding Workers with Strategic Signage as We Navigate the Winter Landscape

As the temperatures continue to drop and the frost sets in, the realization that winter is here has become clearer. The question of safety signs, personal protective gear (PPE), and how they are intended to protect us should be at the forefront of our minds as we navigate through the winter months, especially for workers who work outdoors.  Beyond mere markers, these signs become essential to guiding workers through frosty environments where safety takes precedence.  

In 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported exposure to environmental cold resulted in: 

  • 53  worker deaths 
  • 55 serious injuries and illnesses

What is Cold Stress? 

 According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, cold stress is a condition that occurs when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries can occur, including permanent tissue damage and death. Here are four types of cold stress: 

  1. Trench foot—Occurs when the feet are exposed to prolonged wet and cold conditions.  
  2. Frostbite—Occurs when the skin and tissue freezes  
  3. Hypothermia— Occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. 
  4. Chilblains— Caused by the repeated exposure of skin to temperatures just above freezing to as high as 60°F. 

What Can Be Done to Protect Workers from the Cold?  

Training on the signs of cold stress and other safe work practices are important steps to prevent cold-related illnesses. Here are seven tips from OSHA to protect worker safety: 

1. Train employees on the symptoms of cold stress
Being trained on what type of injuries can occur due to cold weather is important as it can potentially save a life and prevent permanent damage to one's body. Here are the four types of cold-related injuries, their symptoms, and what to do in case of emergency:
  • Trench foot—Symptoms of trench foot are redness of the skin, numbness, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, blisters, bleeding under the skin, and Gangrene.  If any of these symptoms occur:
    • Call 9-1-1 immediately
    • Remove wet shoes and socks
    • Elevate feet and avoid walking on them
  • Frostbite—Symptoms of frostbite are reddened skin that develops grayish-white patches in the fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes; tingling, aching, a loss of feeling, firm/hard, and blisters may occur in the affected areas. If any of these symptoms occur, get to a warm area as soon as possible. Protect the frostbitten area with a loosely wrapped dry cloth and protect the area from contact until medical help arrives. Give warm sweetened drinks if alert.  
  • Hypothermia— Symptoms of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering, loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing, unconsciousness, and possibly death. Should any of these symptoms occur:
    • Call 9-1-1 immediately
    • Move the worker to a warm area
    • Remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing
    • Wrap their entire body in layers of blankets.
    • If alert, provide warm sweetened drinks to help increase the body temperature.  
  • Chilblains—Symptoms of chilblains are redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation, and ulceration in severe cases. Should any of these symptoms arise,
    • Apply first aid by warming the skin
    • Clean and cover any blisters or ulcers
    • Use corticosteroid cream for any itching and swelling
DN_Chilled-Signals_Float2. Provide workers with personal protective equipment to protect themselves from the elements 

Outdoor workers exposed to cold and windy conditions below 32 degrees Fahrenheit are more susceptible to cold stress. Employers are required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) by OSHA standards to protect workers' safety and health.  OSHA suggests workers wear: 

  • Thermal wear 
  • Wool 
  • Silk or polypropylene 
  • An inner layers of clothing that will hold more body heat than cotton 
  •  A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet  
  • An outer layer to protect from wind and rain  

In limited cases specified in the standard (29 CFR 1910.132), there are exceptions to the requirement for employers to provide PPE to workers.

3. Develop a plan to identify potential hazards and the safety measures that will be used to protect workers 

As we know, extreme weather conditions can be risky to work in and certain safety measures need to be followed to ensure all workers can work safely.   People who work outdoors are exposed to all kinds of elements year-round, winter in particular has its own weather-specific hazards that they should receive training on in order to identify and prevent incidents from occurring. Slippery roads and surfaces, windy conditions, and downed power lines are common hazards, and placing safety signs in these areas will help prevent future injury are some examples of these hazards.

4. Scheduling maintenance and repair jobs for warmer months

By limiting the amount of exposure to cold elements, it reduces the risk of cold stress.

5. Provide warm areas and liquids for use during break periods

It is important to stay hydrated, even in cold weather conditions.  Drinking plenty of water will help keep your body nourished. Here is a list of some other drinks that can not only help keep you warm while you’re in the field:

  • Sports drinks
  • Hot water with lemon and honey
  • Hot tea
  • Bone broth
6. Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress 

Symptoms to watch out for are shivering, redness, itching, blistering, leg cramps, tingling, and swelling as these are signs of frostbite, chilblains, hypothermia, and trench foot.

7. Acclimatize workers to cold climates

On average, it takes the body 2-3 weeks to adapt to inclement weather conditions. Similar to warm environments, it is important to gradually increase the amount of time workers spend in these conditions so they can adjust safely. Allow frequent breaks in warm areas to build up a tolerance for working in a cold environment.

Visual Safety Communication Resources from DuraLabel

Cold stress can affect all of us, so it is important to be aware of the signs and what to do should an incident arise that requires medical attention or intervention. Training employees on what to do in an emergency is crucial in the prevention of cold stress injuries.  

Visual communication also plays a role in the safety of employees. Knowing where common hazards occur in your facilities or in the field can help your team navigate their workspace safely and more efficiently.  Floor marking and other visual cues can remind your team of where these hazards are so they can take extra precautions in those areas.  

Duralabel’s free OSHA Safety Signs Instant Action Guide helps you create OSHA/ANSI compliant safety signs. The free guide helps readers understand the appropriate regulations and standards and improve safety and efficiency. Request your free OSHA Safety Signs Instant Action Guide. 

Learn more about how floor marking can create safe pathways for your workers. Download a free copy of the floor marking instant action guide. Give us a call today at 1-888-326-9244 and one of our experts will guide you through the process. 

Read Next:

Work Safe and Smart in Cold and Windy Temp 



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