As December and winter begin, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) updated its online resources on winter weather safety. Markedly, OSHA’s Winter Weather webpages highlight the importance of safeguarding against cold stress. Correspondingly, preventing cold stress is as important as keeping employees safe from heat stress during warmer months. Overall, cold exposure can lead to a spectrum of health issues, from minor skin irritation to severe illness or even death. Additionally, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also offers comprehensive online guidance on cold stress. Previously, in November, OSHA and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) teamed up to strengthen workplace whistleblower protections.

Employer Responsibilities and OSHA’s Guidance

Moreover, OSHA’s updated guidance underlines employers’ responsibilities in ensuring employee safety in cold weather. Given that, employers must ensure that outdoor and indoor workers exposed to cold conditions have the appropriate winter gear. Specifically, this includes understanding the distinction between specialized work equipment and ordinary winter clothing.

Under OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard [29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)], employers aren’t required to compensate for clothing and items used solely for weather protection. In short, this includes things like winter coats, gloves, or hats. Regardless, many employers provide their workers with winter weather gear. However, the employer must provide specialized equipment like insulated nitrile work gloves or lined fire-resistant jackets when it comes to specific jobs and roles. Furthermore, some state laws may mandate employers to supply any equipment necessary for the job. Finally, OSHA and NIOSH state that employers can choose to provide non-specialized clothing for work use.

Dressing Properly for Cold Conditions

By and large, proper attire is critical to winter weather safety. Accordingly, OSHA suggests the following measures for worker protection in cold weather:

  1. Layering: Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing for better insulation.
  2. Insulated and Water-Resistant Outerwear: Opt for an insulated coat or jacket, and avoid tight clothing that can restrict blood circulation.
  3. Face and Mouth Protection: Use a knit mask when necessary.
  4. Headgear: A hat covering the ears is crucial, as it helps maintain overall body heat.
  5. Insulated Gloves: Protect hands with insulated, water-resistant gloves.
  6. Footwear: Insulated and waterproof boots are essential for foot protection.

Winter Weather Safety Tips

In addition to dressing appropriately, OSHA advises the following:

  • Awareness of Cold Stress Symptoms: Employers should educate employees on recognizing such symptoms.
  • Monitoring Physical Conditions: Employees should monitor their and coworkers’ physical states.
  • Staying Dry: Moisture increases heat loss, so staying dry is crucial.
  • Extra Clothing: Keep additional clothing handy for changing if wet.
  • Warm Fluids: Consume warm, sweetened fluids, but avoid alcohol.
  • Utilizing Provided Safety Measures: Use engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the employer.

Employer Takeaways

In conclusion, the agencies believe that employees can work safely and effectively by adhering to these winter weather safety guidelines. In any case, OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to ensure a healthy and productive work environment for all workers. In addition to preventing cold stress, employers should familiarize themselves with six common workplace hazards and find out how to fix them if found.

To assist employers in maintaining compliance, Personnel Concepts offers the following:

  • PPE Compliance Training for Employees An online, interactive training module for employees and a digital PDF compliance guide for employers to ensure compliance with the assessment, documentation, and training requirements contained in OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment standards (29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart I).