Cold weather conditions can bring dangerous hazards to the workplace, whether this be slipping accidents, health issues and illnesses (such as hypothermia), unsanitary work conditions and exposure-related injuries. It’s really important that businesses take various safety precautions to minimise the various risks of winter weather and protect their employees.

For employees who are working in cold outdoor weather conditions, these hazards are amplified significantly. These include workers who are involved with trade occupations such as construction, agriculture and fishing, along with snow clean-up crews and recreational employees. Workers who are frequently exposed to cold temperatures such as freezer storage workers or ski/snowboarding instructors are also at high risk of potential injuries. 

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2017, there were over 20,000 occupational injuries related to harsh cold weather conditions. In fact, in January 2019, there was a chilling polar vortex in the U.S which brought record-breaking low temperatures that caused the deaths of 21 people.  

Here is how you can prevent illnesses and injuries associated with chilling weather:  

Slippery Floors – Use Wet Area Mats & First Aid Kits

Heavy rainfall and cold weather are a recipe for slip-and-fall disasters. According to SafeWork Australia, trips and falls result in thousands of preventable injuries each year. The most common injuries include musculoskeletal injuries, cuts, bruises, fractures and dislocations. In fact, from 2003-15, trips and falls caused the death of 386 workers, where 56% were caused by environmental factors. 

Businesses can easily prevent this hazard and minimise WHS negligence complaints by investing in equipment and materials that deal with slippery rainwater on the floor. One of the best types of products is Alsco’s Wet Area Mat which is cleverly designed to provide a safe barrier against liquid spills. The durable rubber mat has textured surfaces that provide great grip and even have anti-fatigue properties, while it’s bevelled edges anchor it to the floor, providing optimal safety for workers. 

Another way to preemptively prevent cold weather-related injuries (stemming from slip-and-fall accidents) is to install First Aid Kits around the workplace. Every business must have first aid kits that comply with Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) regulations, ensuring that the workplace remains safe and secure for all employees. These kits have to be restocked regularly on a quarterly basis. Of course, along with first aid kits, companies should invest in first aid training for their employees. Both of these are essential for providing treatment for nasty bruises, sprains and any serious wounds which may come from slick rainwater-covered floors and muddy puddles. 

Cold Weather & Heart Attacks – Defibrillator 

Not many people know that cold weather can affect your heart condition, particularly with elderly workers who are more susceptible to the winter. Cold weather makes your heart work harder to keep your body warm – this puts pressure on your blood vessels, which constrict so that the heart can concentrate on pumping blood to the brain and other major body organs. This increases the risk of developing blood clots which could eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. In the possible event of a cardiac arrest in the workplace, businesses should invest in an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to adequately prepare for these sorts of unexpected emergencies. 

Cold & Flu Sicknesses – Hand Hygiene & Washroom Services 

In cold weather, the chance of catching a cold or the flu (seasonal influenza) is also intensified, especially for more elderly workers with heart conditions. In Australia, cold and flu infections are most likely to occur between May and September, which can be easily spread among colleagues or workplace visitors if the right precautions are not undertaken. This can interfere with their productivity and any pressing work deadlines. 

Whether you work in an enclosed work facility or office environment, you are at risk of contracting the cold and flu virus since it spreads rapidly within constrained, indoor areas. This contagious illness is amplified when the virus becomes airborne or contaminates surfaces that people can easily touch, like tabletops and laptop keyboards. Due to this, employees in the workplace can also become infected by shaking hands or inhaling air particles carrying flu droplets. There are various strategies which businesses can implement to minimise the chance of people catching illnesses in the workplace: 

  • Proper hand hygiene is crucial for preventing cold-weather illnesses in any workplace environment, whether this be a professional restaurant kitchen or a butcher warehouse. This includes mounted automatic soap dispenser units, hand drying (paper towel) solutions, surface sanitisers or instant hand sanitiser dispensers.
  • Washroom services are an essential facility for the workplace. A clean and hygienic bathroom will prevent bacterial cross-contamination from the cold and flu virus. This includes seat sanitisers and urinal digital sanitisers which prevents harmful bacteria and microbes that become airborne whenever the toilet/urinal flushes.
  • Cold & Flu Signs can be placed strategically around the workplace (such as entrances, lifts and stairwells) which can remind staff/visitors to stay away when infected. These warning signs can be effective in counteracting the spread of contagious infections, such as urging employees to wear personal protective equipment (i.e. surgical face mask), covering their mouth when sneezing or coughing, or performing hand hygiene practices. Businesses can order customised safety messages for these cold and flu infections. 
  • Cleaning services and equipment should be cleaned regularly to ensure cold viruses are eradicated. This means using disposable disinfectant wipes on particularly risky areas such as door knobs and handles, buttons on machines such as photocopiers and microwaves) or benches/counters in office kitchens. 
  • Training programs and services can be used to educate employees about the various ways the flu infection can spread around the workplace, cold and flu symptoms, common flu strains and the preventative measures to be implemented to safeguard against contagion. Businesses can also use these training programs to promote flu vaccinations.

Cold-Related Stress, Fatigue and Dehydration 

Employees working in any cold environment are at risk of cold stress, which is a very serious health condition where the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature as the cold atmosphere draws heat from the body. Cold work environments involve conditions with temperatures below below 10℃, high wind speeds exceeding 40MPH, humidity, contact with cold surfaces/water and inadequate clothing.

This includes industries where workers are required to work outdoors in particularly cold weather climates and atmospheres for extended periods of time, such as ski or snowboarding instructors. However, this is not simply limited to the outdoors – employees who work inside places such as refrigerated warehouses, freezer plants, cold air-conditioned stores and the supermarket fridge aisle can also be affected by cold-stress. 

In extremely cold weather, other serious cold-stress related illnesses can also arise which can cause permanent tissue damage, or even death. This includes chilblains (painful inflammation of skin blood vessels that causes itching, ulcers, swelling, burning and red patches), trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia. It can also cause minor symptoms such as fatigue and dehydration which can adversely impact the workers’ mental health and productivity. All workplaces should take the suitable precautions below to manage these risks of cold-stress illnesses and injuries. 

  • Conduct safety initiatives revolving around cold-induced illnesses by establishing safety standards (WHS compliance) and promoting a company culture of workplace health and safety. Businesses should also be training workers or supervisors to treat cold-related injuries or illnesses. This involves assisting employees in identifying, treating and preventing cold-stress symptoms, including frostbite, trench foot and hypothermia.
  • Enforce safe working practices and signage which remind workers to frequently drink warm liquids and eat warm, high-calorie foods to heat up the body. However, drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea and hot chocolate) and alcohol should be avoided because it is easy to become dehydrated in cold weather.
  • Encourage workers to wear protective clothing to stay safe in both cold weather and indoor environments. There are various fabrics to be considered – for example, cotton loses insulation when it becomes wet, whereas wool or fleece absorbs sweat and provides insulation even when soaked. Face masks and gloves/mittens are also good options.
    • Wear at least 3 layers of clothing – wear an outer layer to break the wind and allow ventilation, a middle layer of wool/fleece, and an inner layer of synthetic weave to allow further ventilation
    • Use head coverings (knitted hats, hard hats, beanies, etc.) since 40% of body heat is lost when the head is exposed in a cold environment 
    • Wear insulated boots which are sized appropriately since tight-fitted footwear restrict blood flow. This will go well with a pair of thermally insulated socks as it provides an extra layer of insulation and warmth
  • Provide a controlled heating environment for employees such as radiant heaters or infrared heating panels installed within the office. You can also implement electronic or hydronic floor heating, which can deliver warm air without circulating germs, bacteria and dust. Other factors include: building insulation, workstation layouts, direct sunlight control and control of air flow. 
    • Enable workers to take frequent short breaks in warm, dry shelters 
    • Create a “buddy system”  where employees can work in pairs to identify signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses 

Cold-related injuries and illnesses can severely impact the safety and health of any workplace. So, why not check out Alsco’s First Aid Services and Fresh and Clean solutions to minimise these threats?