Outdoor workers, and those who spend a lot of time in freezers, are especially susceptible to cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reminds employers to prepare for cold weather and to encourage employees to follow safety protocols.
Possibly the most obvious, and the most important measure is for the employee to wear proper clothing. OSHA recommends at least three layers of clothing, with cotton on the innermost layer, followed by wool or down, completed by an outer layer of nylon.
The fabric is just as important as the layers. Cotton insulates until it gets wet. Wool, on the other hand insulates even when completely wet. Using wool as a second layer will absorb the sweat and still provide warmth. Nylon or Gortex is good as a wind break, thereby reducing the effects of wind chill.
Employees should avoid getting wet if at all possible. They should also keep a change of clothing in a warm, dry area to replace any work clothes that get soaked. Temporary shelters around the work site can help reduce the effects of wind, and if the shelters are heated, they can provide a warm area for the workers to take a break.
While working in cold temperatures, employees should take frequent breaks, drink plenty of fluids and eat warm food that is high in calories. Breaks should be taken out of the cold in a warm vehicle or a heated shelter. Employees should also work in pairs to watch for symptoms of cold weather exposure such as cold stress. Signs include disorientation, irrational behavior and confusion.
Training should be provided to all coworkers, managers and supervisors, so they are able recognize the signs of cold stress. If an employee begins to exhibit symptoms, or begins to feel uncomfortable, he or she must stop working and seek a warm area.
South Dakota OSHA Cold Stress Warning
OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, reminds businesses in South Dakota and throughout the nation, that winter cold brings the hazards of cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia to the workplace.
The south has been plagued with unusual weather recently including ice storms, freezing rain and tornadoes. In the Midwest, a major winter storm recently knocked out power for almost a month. After that storm, another one hit many of the same areas. These conditions can be dangerous for any employee, but outdoor workers are particularly at risk.
Cold stress occurs when the body can’t warm itself. When working in cold air, windy or wet conditions, the body expends more energy to heat itself. It does this by drawing blood away from the limbs to maintain the warmth of the internal organs. Arms, legs, hands, feet, ears and the nose then have less blood flowing to them and are exceptionally susceptible to frostbite.
The temperatures don’t have to be freezing to create a hazard. OSHA warns that even at 50 degrees, an employee in wet, windy conditions can experience cold stress. Also, some workers are more susceptible to cold stress than others. Medications can affect body heat, so persons on tranquilizers, antidepressants or sedatives may be at higher risk. Older employees can be more susceptible, because as the body ages it becomes less efficient at warming itself.
It is important, therefore, that all workers take a few safety measures to prevent cold-related illnesses and injuries.
First, every worker needs to wear clothing appropriate for the weather. Be sure to dress in layers, and to avoid getting wet, particularly when it’s windy. Each worker should take several breaks from the cold, either indoors, in a heated vehicle, or a warm area out of the wind. Warm beverages, not hot, are a good way to assist the body’s heating process, as are warm carbohydrate-rich meals.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol. These types of drinks actually impair the body’s warming system.
A recent South Dakota Worker Safety alert was issued by OSHA to warn employers to the dangers posed by All-Terrain Vehicles, also known as ATVs. Although many people may not realize it, ATVs are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. As their popularity grows, more accidents occur. For this reason, the recent alert explains that employers need to follow the guidelines supplied by the manufacturer to insure safe operation of the ATV. Moreover, employees should be trained on the proper way to drive the vehicles.
Employers need to take these steps because ATVs pose a real danger in the workplace. The South Dakota Department of Labor and South Dakota OSHA, also known as SD-OSHA, wants employers to know how vital it is that employees receive proper training. Many people think that since ATVs are driven recreationally, even by children, that they are easy to operate. Actually, ATVs handle differently than cars and motorcycles, and for that reason, employees should receive proper training before driving the vehicles.
The number of deaths from ATV accidents is on the increase according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In 1982, the number of people who died in ATV-related accidents was 29. That number rose to 470 in 2004. The number of injuries received in ATV-related accidents is 800,000 for the past 10 years. These statistics are only from injuries sustained during recreational use.
Injuries received from driving ATVs in the workplace are on the rise as well. ATVs are used in industries such as law enforcement, agriculture, facilities management, and construction. Employees who operate ATVs in the workplace face the same hazards as recreational users. In the last 10 years, 100 people have died in ATV accidents in the workplace.
To reduce and hopefully avoid more injuries and deaths, OSHA stresses that all employees should wear helmets when driving the vehicles. Moreover, the manufacturer’s operating instructions should be followed, and drivers should be trained specifically on how to handle the vehicles.
South Dakota worker safety is on the mind of the US Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, also known as MSHA. This agency has a new campaign aimed at improving public safety by telling workers, along with bikers, rock hounds, hikers, and swimmers to “Stay Out — Stay Alive.”
The concern of MSHA, and the reason for the campaign, is to protect people from mine accidents. According to Richard E. Stickler, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, “There are about 500,000 abandoned mines and another 14,000 active operations throughout the United States.” He added, “Many of them contain hidden hazards and, for those not trained to work in mines, the outcome can be deadly. That’s why we urge workers, hikers, bikers, rock hounds and swimmers to ‘Stay Out — Stay Alive.’”
Both mines that have been abandoned and those that are still active pose threats. Since 1999, mine-related accidents have claimed the lives of over 200 people. Often children or recreational enthusiasts trespass or play on mine property and end up being injured. Moreover, workers from industries unrelated to mining may encounter hazards such as mine shafts.
A potential threat may actually look innocent in some cases. An abandoned quarry filled with water may look safe when in actuality, it may be very hazardous. The water is often very cold and deep and can pose a hazard to swimmers. Moreover, machinery and sharp objects may be under the water and concealed from the surface. The slopes down to the water may be slippery, and rock ledges surrounding the quarry may be unstable.
All-terrain vehicle drivers may not realize the dangers lurking in old surface mines. Stockpiles of loose materials or refuse can collapse and cause all-terrain vehicles to roll over. The new safety campaign will help educate the public about dangers found on mine property.