Cold weather can create hazards such as frostbite and hypothermia for employees who work outside, especially in windy and wet conditions and for those who spend extensive time in freezers.
Wyoming employers need to be aware of these dangers and establish protocols for working safely in cold temperatures.
To help protect employees against these hazards, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) suggests several measures.
First, employees need to wear appropriate clothing. OSHA recommends workers wear at least 3 layers. Cotton should be worn closest to the body, followed by a middle layer of wool or down, which retain their insulating properties even when wet.
To help break the wind, the outer layer should be made of nylon or Gortex.
Clothing should be loose to provide ventilation. Footwear should be insulated and/or waterproof. Heads should always be covered. The body can lose up to 40 degrees of heat if the head is exposed to the elements.
Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided, as they can interfere with the body’s ability to warm itself. Employees should drink plenty of fluids and eat warm, high-calorie food like pasta. Workers also need to take several breaks during the shift in either heated shelters or warm vehicles.
While working, employees need to be aware of how their body responds to the cold. They also need to understand that smoking cigarettes and taking certain prescription medicines can reduce their ability to stay warm. Cold weather exposure can lead to cold stress. Employees should work in pairs to watch each other for symptoms, which include disorientation, irrational behavior and confusion.
If a worker becomes uncomfortable or exhibits symptoms of cold stress, he or she should stop working immediately and move to a warm area. Wet clothes should be exchanged for dry ones. In fact, each employee should keep a change of clothes in a warm area, just in case his or her work clothes get wet.
Wyoming Cold Stress
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding Wyoming businesses, along with companies across the nation, that exposure to cold weather in the workplace can cause cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia.
Recent winter storms left part of the Midwest without power for nearly a month. As they began to recover another major storm hit. Workers employed outside in these conditions are particularly susceptible to cold-related illnesses. With winter deeply upon the nation, though, almost any worker can suffer cold-weather hazards.
According to OSHA, even temperatures as warm as 50 degrees can be dangerous. The body can get too cold, and become unable to warm itself. When that occurs, the employee experiences cold stress, which is a less serious form of hypothermia, an illness that can lead to death.
When the outdoor temperature drops, the body exerts more energy to maintain body heat. The internal organs are given priority, which draws blood away from the limbs. Hands, feet, fingers, toes, ears and the nose then are particularly at risk for frostbite.
Though it’s winter, cold stress can happen even at milder temperatures. Wet and windy conditions can sap heat from the body, especially if any part of the worker’s body is submerged under water. Plus, some workers are at a higher risk for cold stress than others. The bodies of older persons are less efficient at heating themselves. Also, some medications can interfere with the body’s thermometer. Any employees on sedatives, anti-depressants or tranquilizers should understand they could be more susceptible to cold stress than those not on medications.
To prevent the risk of injury and cold-related illness, workers can engage in a few safety measures. First, dress appropriately for the weather, preferably in layers, so if a worker becomes wet, that layer can be removed. Second, the employee should take frequent breaks in a warm area out of the wind, and drink warm beverages such as broth. Do not drink coffee. Caffeine diminishes the body’s ability to warm up. Alcohol has the same effect, so both should be avoided.
Because the influenza virus spreads from person to person, a recent Wyoming worker safety alert points out that employers should create a disaster plan in case a pandemic occurs. A pandemic is when a disease spreads worldwide. A pandemic could result in a high mortality rate and cause disruptions to the global economy.
Most employers have emergency disaster plans in place for hazards such as power outages, floods, fires, or hurricanes. But OSHA feels employers also should have a plan in place for an influenza pandemic. Although no new strain of the influenza virus exists at the moment, were one to emerge, no one would have immunity to it. This new strain of influenza quickly could spread worldwide.
In this happened, the economy would be disrupted on a worldwide level. More devastating than a single terrorist attack, a pandemic would impact industries such as travel, tourism and trade. The food supply could be disrupted, as could consumer buying. Finally, investment and financial markets could feel the impact of the pandemic.
Pandemics have happen before. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed between 50 and 100 million people within an 18-month time span. If a similar influenza pandemic were to occur, employers could help prevent or minimize the impact by being prepared and having a disaster plan in place. As OSHA explains, “As with any catastrophe, having a contingency plan is essential.”
The Wyoming OSHA alert wants employers to realize that an influenza pandemic could cause problems such as overcrowded healthcare facilities. Since the supply chain could be impacted due to high levels of employee absenteeism, deliveries could be disrupted. Some businesses, such as grocery stores, could run out of certain products, such as tissues and hand sanitizers.
Meanwhile, other businesses might experience a large drop in customers. For instance, to avoid exposure, people might stay away from restaurants, malls, and movie theaters.
What are one of the most hazardous pieces of equipment in industry? Here’s a hint: They flip over, they tip over, and they become more unstable than usual when they’re overloaded. They are ATVs, or All-Terrain Vehicles, and there are more and more workplace deaths and injuries because of them.
A Wyoming worker safety alert reveals that the ATV is being used with increasing frequency in construction, facilities management, police work, and farming.
Wyoming OSHA alerts says that increase in use, combined with the trickier aspects of operating the devices, and is leading to the hike in workplace-related ATV deaths and injuries. In fact, workplace ATV injuries and deaths may soon outstrip the number of accidents in recreational use.
The Wyoming OSHA alert suggests drivers in the workplace follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for weight loads and numbers of allowable passengers. It should be noted that ATVs are designed to be operated by a driver alone, with no passengers. OSHA also urges every driver to wear a helmet and obtain training specifically for the ATV. The OSHA guidelines refer to the operation of any off-road, motorized vehicle with handlebars, a seat straddled by the driver, and handlebars for steering.
OSHA numbers show that over a 9-year period, on-the-job ATV accidents claimed 113 lives. Accidents in general have shown a steady upward climb since 1992. Workers increasingly suffered injuries putting them out of work for a day or more at a time. Over the previous 9 years, in fact, 1,625 such accidents occurred.
Deaths in ATV accidents are up generally. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that they have gone up for recreational users as well – climbing from 29 in 1982 to 470 in 2004, or a more than 15-fold increase in 12 years.
The Wyoming OSHA alert applies to any motorized off-road vehicle steered by handlebars, with low-pressure tires and a seat straddled by the driver.
If you haven’t heard already, then you need to know about a recent Wyoming worker safety alert that deals with what to do in preparation for a potential influenza pandemic.
Employers should include a plan that deals with what to do during a worldwide influenza pandemic. The plan should tell workers the best precautions to take during a pandemic, as well as actions each business plans to do to minimize the spread of disease.
This is very important because according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a pandemic could disrupt the global economy in ways never imagined. In fact, a pandemic could have a greater impact than a single terrorist attack.
An influenza pandemic is much different from the common seasonal flu so many experience during the fall and winter months. This type of flu is not a major threat because most healthy people have developed the antibodies to fight it. Only the elderly, those with compromised immune systems like HIV, and children are at risk of dying from a common seasonal flu.
A pandemic occurs when a new strain of the virus appears. Since no one has had a chance to develop antibodies, many people end up dying. This is what happened from 1918 to 1920 where more than 50 million people died within 18 months during the Spanish Flu.
The Spanish Flu, named so because of the exposure it received in Spanish newspapers, first appeared at a military base in Kansas and spread globally from there. Wartime newspaper censorship prevented most newspapers, except the Spanish newspapers, from publishing many stories about the flu. Reports stated that even healthy young adults died within days of getting the virus.
While it’s important to note that there’s no new strain of the influenza virus or risk of a pandemic, it’s equally important to know the best precautions to protect yourself from getting sick. These precautions work well for the seasonal flu too.
Use disposable tissues.
Wash your hands.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
If you’re sick, stay home.
Stay at least 6 feet away from sick people
Living and working within the State of Wyoming means that you might be eligible to receive compensation for miles spent on the clock in your own personal car or vehicle. In addition to getting reimbursement for normal car operating costs, you might also get money back for fees associated with toll roads, parking meters and garages, and possibly even valet parking. The amount you get will largely depend on your employer and the kind of policy they offer employees.
Employers across the United States offer their employees compensation for time spent in their own car. This can include those who use their private car to make business-related deliveries, pick ups, running errands for the company, traveling to off-site places and even picking up clients from the airport. There are employers in Wyoming that offer this reimbursement, however, as with any company, you will need to check with your company to find out the specifics.
I find that interesting that while the IRS does have a standard rate of mileage reimbursement, as a general rule, not all companies are required to comply. You should know that currently, the IRS minimum for this reimbursement is 48.5 cents per mile. This does not include other costs, such as those mentioned above. Some employers may choose to give their workers more or less, depending on the type of trip and the area. Others may give those who travel on a daily basis a certain sum per month or year to cover these expenses.
As an employee, you should know your rights and talk to your employer about allowing you to receive compensation for the miles you drive in your own car. Your company should not expect you to absorb these costs out of pocket. The Wyoming Mileage Reimbursement Law is designed to help protect you.