‘Tis the Season: OSHA Reminds Employers to Keep Employees Safe in the Cold

Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA has put out a reminder to employers on winter weather Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements on how to design an effective PPE program. Employers must provide PPE, to protect workers’ safety, and health.

As winter returns and brings with it cold temperatures, ice, and snow, it’s Seasons Greetings from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  As with heat stress, cold exposure and resulting cold stress can result in a range of injuries and illnesses, ranging from minor skin irritation to serious illness and death. NIOSH addresses cold stress in detail in online guidance.  https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/coldstress/default.html.  When combined with metabolic heat and indoor occupational heat sources, the heavy PPE, in addition to jackets, and hats worn for cold weather can also create heat illness risks that also must be addressed and managed. 

In OSHA’s recent guidance, OSHA has reminded employers of their responsibilities to ensure that employees wear winter gear for both outdoor and indoor workers who are exposed to the cold. Under federal OSHA’s rules, there is no requirement for employers to compensate employers for the ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, hats, and raincoats. See 29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4).  Specialized work equipment, like insulated nitrile work gloves or lined fire-resistant jackets, must be provided by the employer.  Under some state laws, any equipment needed for the job must be provided by the employer.  Of course, there is no prohibition in any state on employers choosing to provide employees with non-specialized “street wear” to use at work. 

Dressing Properly for the Cold

OSHA notes that dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, the following would help protect workers from cold stress:

  • Use at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
  • Use of insulated coat/jacket (water resistant if necessary). Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities.
  • Use of a knit mask to cover face and mouth (if needed).
  • Use of a hat that will cover an employee’s ears. Hats help keep the whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
  • Use of insulated gloves (water resistant if necessary), to protect the hands
  • Use of insulated and waterproof boots to protect the feet.

In its guidance, OSHA also provides cold weather safety tips:

  • The employer should ensure that employees know the symptoms of cold stress.
  • Employees should monitor their physical condition and that of your coworkers.
  • Employees should stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body.
  • Employees should keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change.
  • Employees should drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol).
  • Employees should use proper engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by the employer.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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