Dressing for Winter Work: Cold Weather PPE
This week OSHA addresses working in cold weather on its homepage: “Know the wind chill temperature to better prepare for working outdoors.” And the Tip of the Week is about dressing properly for work: “Resolve to follow all personal protective equipment requirements.” Bringing those two things together, it’s the perfect time to talk about cold weather PPE.
Minimum Standards for Winter Weather
Though OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard for working in winter environments or providing specific cold weather PPE, other requirements cover winter-safety considerations for workers. Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to provide employees with an environment that is free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious harm. To meet this requirement during cold-weather seasons, employers should do the following.
Train to Prevent Cold Stress
Teaching workers how to recognize the symptoms of cold stress can prevent injuries and illnesses. Training should include guidance for proper clothing selection (including cold weather PPE), first aid, and emergency medical assistance. Employers should also address other weather-related hazards such as windy conditions, slippery roads and surfaces, and downed power lines.
Taking measures to reduce the risk of cold stress can be effective. For example, shielding workers from drafts and using radiant heaters can keep workers safe and warm. Controls should also be used to prevent weather-related hazards, including slippery surfaces and falling snow and ice.
Implement Safe Work Practices
OSHA’s Winter Weather page features a comprehensive list of safety practices to protect employees from illnesses, injuries, and fatalities. This lists addresses tools, plans, maintenance, scheduling, and communication. As you develop your safety program, this page is a great reference tool.
Consider Providing Cold Weather PPE
Though standard 29 CFR 1910.132 contains requirements for employers to provide PPE, part 1910.132(h)(4) contains specifications for items they are not required to pay for, including ordinary clothing or other items used solely for protection from the weather. Even so, many employers provide winter weather gear such as coats, hats, and gloves to protect workers from the elements.
Guidelines for Winter Work
You can’t prevent cold stress without proper clothing. Cold weather PPE includes specially insulated and waterproof gear as well as standard winter wear. When work in frigid temperatures cannot be avoided, the following guidelines can keep workers safe and warm.
- Wear Insulated Outerwear: Insulation is key to keeping warmth close to the body, trapping its natural heat.
- Use Insulated Gloves: Fingers are highly susceptible to frostbite. Gloves should not only be insulated but also water-resistant (if necessary).
- Select Proper Footwear: Waterproof and insulated boots protect feet and toes from trench foot and frostbite. Slip-resistant footwear should also be considered when necessary.
- Cover Your Head: A good winter hat should cover the head and ears. As needed, workers may also need a mask to cover the face, mouth, or neck.
- Wear Layers: Combining clothing items into at least three, loose-fitting layers provides better insulation.
- Keep Moisture Away: Inner layers of wool, silk, or synthetic fabrics will inhibit moisture and help you retain more body heat than cotton.
- Avoid Tight Clothing: Blood flow is critical to body warmth. Looser clothing allows warm blood to reach the extremities.