Tips for protecting outdoor workers from the cold weather


You are the HR manager for a large utility company in the Midwest. Many of your employees work outside performing maintenance functions, and you want to make sure they stay safe in the sometimes brutally cold weather. What can you do to protect them?


With the cold weather upon us, employers and employees need to take precautions to prevent and treat cold-related health problems. Employees who work outside are especially vulnerable.

Exposure to cold temperatures for extended periods of time may cause serious health problems, such as trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. In extreme cases, including cold water submersion, exposure can lead to death. Danger signs include uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements, fatigue and confused behavior. If these signs are observed, call immediately for emergency help.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers the following tips for preventing cold weather-related illnesses and injuries:

  • Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous.
  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries and what to do to help employees.
  • Train employees about cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
  • Encourage employees to wear proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions, including layers that can be adjusted to changing conditions.
  • Be sure that employees working in extremely cold conditions take frequent, short breaks in warm, dry shelters to allow their bodies to warm up.
  • Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day.
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm.
  • Use the buddy system—have employees work in pairs so that one employee can recognize danger signs.
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate) or alcohol.
  • Eat warm, high-calorie foods, such as hot pasta dishes.
  • Remember that employees increase their risks when they take certain medications, are in poor physical condition, or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

Source: Cold Stress Card, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. For free copies, visit or call 202-693-1888.

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