The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) urges employers to be aware of the hazards of working in cold weather and take appropriate precautions. Employees who work outside or in freezers for extended periods are susceptible to Trench Foot, frostbite, cold stress and hypothermia. Every employer is responsible for establishing cold weather protocols for safety in the workplace.
To aid companies in ensuring safety of their workers, OSHA recommends several common-sense measures to protect against Cold Stress.
Proper clothing is of the utmost importance for Minnesota employees. OSHA standards suggest workers wear at least three layers of clothing. The fabric used in these layers is particularly important. Different fabrics contain different insulating properties and react differently to moisture.
For instance, when cotton gets wet, it loses its ability to insulate. Wool, on the other hand is a good insulator even when completely soaked. Therefore, cotton should be worn as the innermost layer to provide ventilation. Wool, or down, as the next layer will absorb sweat and keep the body warm. The third or outer layer needs to be a material like nylon or Gortex that will keep out the wind.
Proper clothing includes the entire body. Employees should always wear a hat. An exposed head can lose up to 40 degrees of body heat. Feet need to be kept warm, too. Workers should wear boots or insulated footwear, and if they work in wet conditions, the footwear should be waterproof.
While working outside, or inside a freezer, workers should avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine. These substances impede the body’s ability to keep warm. Prescription drugs and smoking cigarettes can also affect the body’s heating system. Workers need to be aware of these effects and dress and behave accordingly.
When employees are working in the cold, they should work in pairs and watch each other for signs of cold stress. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation and irrational behavior. To help avoid cold stress, workers should take frequent breaks in a warm area, such as a heated shelter or warm vehicle. Managers, supervisors and coworkers should all receive training to recognize these signs.
Minnesota Cold Stress
OSHA, the federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration, warns that employees can be injured by exposure to cold weather in the workplace, even at as mild a temperature of 50 degrees.
With the recent winter storms in the Midwest which knocked out power for nearly a month, Minnesota employers and those across the nation need to be aware that cold weather exposure can cause cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia.
Outdoor workers are particularly susceptible to cold weather hazards, but with winter upon the country, all employees could be at some level of risk.
Cold stress is a condition where the body can no longer warm itself. The colder the temperature, the more the body works to create body heat. All internal organs are given priority, which means that blood is taken away from the outer limbs. In these cases, ears, the nose, feet, hands, toes and fingers are in great risk of frostbite.
Hypothermia is a serious drop in body temperature, and can be fatal. Cold stress is a less serious form of hypothermia. In severe cases, however, cold stress can cause permanent injury and can result in death.
Certain workers need to be aware that they may be more susceptible to these cold weather related illnesses. Older employees, employees on sedatives or tranquilizers, and those on antidepressants may be at greater risk. Medications can interfere with the body’s ability to warm itself, and as people age, their bodies become less efficient at keeping warm.
A few simple safety measures can help all employees prevent these cold weather illnesses. All employees should dress for the weather. Wet and windy conditions, even at 50 degrees can cause cold stress, so workers should dress appropriately. Layers of clothing are recommended, as is having extra clothing on hand in case something gets wet.
Workers should also take lots of breaks and go inside, or to a warm area out of the wind, wet and cold. Warm drinks like broth are recommended, as are warm meals rich in carbohydrates.
Avoid alcohol and all caffeine drinks. Both diminish the body’s ability to warm up.
Nobody likes workplace injuries. Not workers. Not management. Yet accidents on the job, and their resulting injuries – and sometimes deaths – are not unusual.
The statistics can be chilling. In 2005 alone (the last year for which numbers are available), 5,702 workers nationwide died in workplace accidents. They were just a few of the 4,214,200 on-the-job accidents for that year. Altogether, the accidents resulted in more than a million lost workdays – a total of 1,234,700. The figures are strictly for the private sector, and don’t even reflect the statistics of high-risk public jobs like police work, firefighting, and paramedical work, among others.
Minnesota worker safety numbers show that 503,530 workers suffered tears, strains, or sprains. Painful back injuries accounted for 270,890 accidents in 2005. And 255,750 people fell in their places of employment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) monitors Minnesota’s workplace safety issues.
The cost is high for both workers and for their employers. As the figures show, workplace accidents, besides being tragic, can end in lost pay, high-priced medical care, and lawsuits, to name a few problems.
Some of the common causes of workplace accidents are slips, trips, and falls. Although they’re usually not seen as dangerous, they’re the second most frequent causes of death in the workplace, following only after driving accidents. Falls at work resulted in 732 deaths in 2005. Accidents while driving on the job left 1,258 people dead.
Employers interested in promoting on-the-job safety might consider an education program in the workplace. The OSHA Workplace Safety Pack is an easy-to-absorb set of guidelines to help workers avoid injuries. The package contains a Workstation Safety Tips poster, a Lifting Safely poster, a Slips, Trips and Falls poster, and Workplace Ergonomics.
A good program would remind employees of the need for workplace safety. And it would teach them all the necessary safety measures.
Although many people don’t realize it, mines pose a threat to Minnesota worker safety. Mine accidents have resulted in over 200 deaths since 1999. Some of these fatalities involved children and outdoor enthusiasts. A new safety program, “Stay Out — Stay Alive,” is intended to educate the public on the dangers posed by both abandoned and working mines.
The US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Heath Administration, also known as MSHA, wants to warn everyone about these dangers. Workers and recreational users need to be aware of the hazards they could encounter if they trespass on mine property.
Mine accidents are more common than most people think. These accidents include more than just the highly publicized collapses. Since 1999, mine accidents have resulted in 200 fatalities. Some of the people who died in these accidents were children and outdoor enthusiasts who trespassed onto mine property. Sadly, children sometimes trespass onto the property to play, with tragic results. Workers in industries other than mining also sometimes fall into mine shafts or are injured in some other way on mine property.
In addition to mine shafts, other dangers lurk on mine property. Quarries that are filled with water can pose threats. Although they may look safe, these quarries can contain machinery or other sharp object that are hidden under the water’s surface. Other dangers around these quarries include surrounding slopes that are slippery and rock ledges that are unstable. Another danger many swimmers don’t consider is that the water in these quarries is very cold and very deep.
These accidents often occur because people don’t realize the hazards posed by mines. Moreover, quarries filled with water may look safe, but in fact, they can be dangerous. Not only do these quarries have rock ledges that are unstable and slopes that may be slippery, in some cases, old machinery can lurk under the water.
Minnesota worker safety should be important to all employers. For that reason, the “Stay Out — Stay Alive” campaign should help protect not only workers but other citizens as well.
You may not think of chainsaws as a tool in industry, but in fact, they are frequently used on the job in certain fields.
Employers need to be aware of a recent Minnesota Worker Safety Alert concerning two popular types of chainsaws. These chainsaws are often used in industries such as landscaping, lumbering, and construction and have been recalled for safety reasons. When the chainsaws are used heavily, the front plastic handle may break. When this handle breaks, the user can lose control of the saw and suffer injuries as a result. Workers should stop using these chainsaws immediately to avoid injury.
The Minnesota OSHA Alert applies to Troy-Bilt and Craftsman chainsaws. The chainsaws affected by this recall have two-cycle engines that run on gasoline and range from 46cc to 55cc in size. The Troy-Bilt and Craftsman chainsaws have cutting blades of either 18 inches or 20 inches. In the case of Troy-Bilt, four models are impacted by this recall. In the case of Craftsman, the “Incredi-Pull” model is part of this recall. The “Incredi-Pull” has an 18-inch cutting blade and a two-cycle 55cc gas engine.
These chainsaws are often used by workers in industries such as lumbering, landscaping, and construction. Injuries have been reported to OSHA. The injuries reported to OSHA from these chainsaws include burns, sprains, bruises, and cuts. For this reason, all workers should stop using these chainsaws immediately.
Replacement handles for the chainsaws affected by this recall are available. Contact either OSHA or the manufacturer of the chainsaw for a replacement kit. This kit includes a replacement handle and instructions on the proper way to install this new handle.
Is a replacement kit available? Yes. To receive a safety kit for free, contact the chainsaw manufacturer or OSHA. This safety kit contains a replacement handle and instructions on how to install this handle. To prevent injuries, and possibly even death, discontinue using the chainsaw until the replacement handle is installed.
Who issued this recall? Troy-Bilt and Craftsman voluntarily recalled these chainsaws to prevent injuries. OSHA worked in conjunction with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on this recall.