Winter weather presents a multitude of hazards—slippery roads and surfaces, environmental cold, strong winds, etc.—so it is important for employers to prepare for inclement weather and implement safe work practices. While winter weather may slow tent rental business, it rarely halts it. From holiday markets to ice fishing tournaments and winter weddings, tenting continues throughout the cold winter months.
Outdoor work requires proper preparation, especially in winter weather conditions, so employers have a responsibility to provide workers with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards. The following are a few tips from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to help employers protect workers’ safety and health.
Educate workers on cold stress
Environmental cold can affect workers exposed to cold air temperatures and puts them at risk of cold stress. What constitutes as cold stress and its effects can vary throughout different regions of the country. For example, in regions not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for “cold stress.”
As wind speed increases, it causes cold air temperatures to feel colder, thus increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed crew members. Cold stress occurs by driving down the body’s skin temperature, and eventually internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur. Types of cold stress include:
Trench foot: a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions.
Frostbite: an injury caused by freezing of the skin and tissues.
Hypothermia: a medical emergency that occurs when normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops below 95°F. While hypothermia is most likely to occur during very cold temperatures, it can also occur during cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or immersion in cold water.
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, it recommends that employers train workers on how to recognize hazardous environmental conditions that can lead to cold stress, educate employees on the symptoms of cold stress, and offer guidance on how to select proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions.
Train employees to dress accordingly
While there is no OSHA requirement for employers to provide workers with ordinary clothing used solely for protection from weather, many employers provide their workers with winter weather gear such as winter coats, jackets and gloves. Dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, instruct team members to:
- Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing (an inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic polypropylene to wick moisture; a middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation; and an outer wind/rain protection layer that allows for some ventilation to prevent overheating.
- Use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth.
- Select a hat that will cover the ears.
- Wear insulated gloves (water-resistant if needed) to protect hands.
- Utilize insulated and waterproof boots to protect feet.
Promote safe winter weather driving
While employers cannot control roadway conditions, they can promote safe driving by ensuring that their commercial drivers are properly trained for driving in winter weather conditions. OSHA recommends that employers teach drivers to:
Practice cold weather driving. Rehearse maneuvers on ice or snow in an empty lot during daylight hours. It is important to understand what the vehicle’s brakes will do: in general, stomp on antilock brakes, pump nonantilock brakes. Be aware that stopping distances are longer on
Keep an emergency kit in each vehicle. All kits should include a flashlight with fresh batteries, jumper cables, abrasive material (sand, cat litter, even floor mats), a shovel, snow brush and ice scraper, warning devices (flares) and blankets. For long trips, add food, water and medication.
Plan the route. Check the weather report, allow extra time, be familiar with maps/directions and inform others on the route and arrival time.
While the winter months may present a list of challenges for tent and event rental businesses, keeping employees educated and informed on the hazards associated with working in cold environments is key to avoiding injuries and accidents. For more information on winter weather training, visit www.osha.gov/winter-weather.
SIDEBAR: OSHA’s Cold Stress QuickCard™
OSHA’s Cold Stress QuickCard™ is a free laminated fold-up card that can be used as a reference guide to combat and prevent many illnesses and injuries.
The card includes advice on how to:
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and injuries.
- Aid workers who suffer from cold stress such as frostbite or hypothermia.
- Educate team members about cold stress hazards and prevention techniques.