Safety Policies and Procedures Manual
Working in Cold Environments
For more information contact:
Environmental Health and Safety
Employees working in extreme cold weather may be exposed to conditions that can cause frostbite and hypothermia. All department personnel are responsible for protecting employees from cold exposure injuries.
This section describes:
- Extreme cold and normally-expected weather conditions.
- Department, supervisor, and employee responsibilities for providing and using protective outerwear.
- Cold exposure injuries.
- Frostbite and hypothermia procedures.
Cold Weather Conditions
Extreme Cold Weather
Extreme cold conditions exist when the equivalent chill temperature is at or below -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Equivalent Chill Temperature
Equivalent chill temperature is a function of the actual (ambient) temperature and the estimated wind speed. To determine the equivalent chill temperature, refer to Figure 1 below.
Current air temperature and wind speeds can be obtained through TV and radio newscasts and reports, and through WWW weather sites, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Normally-expected conditions exist when the equivalent chill temperature is above -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extreme Cold Weather Protection
Employees required to work in extreme cold weather conditions are to use protective outerwear and work/warm-up schedules to prevent frostbite and hypothermia.
Supervisors must consider employee requests to use extreme cold weather protective outerwear regardless of temperature.
The employing department must provide extreme cold weather protective equipment. Extreme cold weather is defined as an equivalent chill temperature of at or below -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extreme cold weather protective equipment includes items such as insulated gloves, hats, coveralls, and footwear.
Supervisors are to:
- Determine whether employees will be working in extreme cold weather conditions.
- Ensure that employees are equipped with and wear protective outerwear when necessary.
- Implement work/warm-up schedules when indicated by equivalent chill temperature (Fig 1).
- Consider employee requests to use extreme cold weather protective outerwear regardless of temperature.
Employees required to work in extreme cold weather conditions are to wear department-provided protective outerwear or wear equivalent personal protective outerwear.
Normal Weather Apparel
Employees required to work in normally-expected weather conditions are to provide and use personal apparel suitable for the conditions.
Cold Exposure Injuries
Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the fluids around the cells of body tissue. Areas of the body most vulnerable to frostbite are the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers and toes.
Initial symptoms of frostbite usually include an uncomfortable sensation of coldness and pain, followed by numbness.
Additional symptoms include:
- Tingling, stinging, aching, or cramping pains, which may be felt at first, but then subside.
- Skin changing color to white or grayish-yellow, progressing to reddish-violet, and finally turning black.
- Affected area is cold and numb.
Hypothermia is the lowering of the body’s core temperature to abnormal levels.
The initial symptoms of hypothermia usually include uncontrollable shivering and sensation of cold.
Additional symptoms include:
- Fits of shivering
- Vague and slow, slurred speech
- Memory lapses
Possible Frostbite or Hypothermia
Upon observing, or being notified of, an employee experiencing the initial symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, the supervisor is to ensure that the employee is moved to a warm location.
If symptoms worsen or additional symptoms appear, the supervisor is to recommend that the employee seek medical attention.
The supervisor must complete an Incident Report (for Accidental Injury or Work-Related Illness upon notification of potential frostbite or hypothermia (see SPPM 2.24).
An employee experiencing any of the initial symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia must immediately move to a warm location and notify her or his supervisor.
If the symptoms worsen or additional symptoms appear, the employee should immediately seek medical attention.
Contact Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) for assistance and information about working in cold environments; telephone 509-335-3041.
Revisions: Reviewed July 2013; Dec. 1999 – new policy (Rev. 26).