Volume 15, Number 9 (January 2018)
John Howard, M.D.
Working in the Cold
Depending on where you reside and work this season, Old Man Winter might be knocking on your door, bringing you snow, ice, and chilling temperatures. For those in warmer areas of the country, it may be difficult to imagine some winter weather extremes. For instance, according to the NOAA National Climate Extremes Committee, the existing record for lowest temperature in the United States was -80°F (-62.2°C) in Prospect Creek, Alaska, in 1971. Luckily, most workers will not encounter conditions quite so extreme.
Workers exposed to extreme cold or who work in cold environments may be at risk for cold-related illnesses and injuries. Susceptible workers, such as those working without shelter, outdoors, or in an area that is poorly insulated or without heat, may be put into a dangerous situation when cold weather prevails. What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions relatively unaccustomed to winter weather, even near freezing temperatures can put unaccustomed workers at risk.
Whenever temperatures drop decidedly below normal and as wind speed increases, heat can more rapidly leave the body. If workers are unable to keep warm, these cold conditions may lead to serious health problems, such as chilblains, trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. Hypothermia in particular, can be deadly. If a worker experiences an abnormally low body temperature, the brain is affected, making it difficult or impossible to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is occurring and may be unable to take actions to warm themselves or seek medical care.
There are a few recommendations that employers can follow to protect workers from cold stress:
- Schedule routine maintenance and repair jobs in cold areas for warmer months.
- Schedule cold jobs for the warmer part of the day.
- Reduce the physical demands of workers.
- Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
- Provide warm liquids to workers to consume.
- Provide warm areas for use during break periods.
- Monitor workers who are at risk of cold stress.
- Provide cold stress training that includes information on the following:
- risk factors
- the importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms
- first aid
- personal protective equipment
In addition, workers should avoid exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible. When cold temperatures cannot be avoided, workers should follow these recommendations:
- Wear appropriate clothing.
- Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
- Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities. When choosing clothing, be aware that some clothing may restrict movement, resulting in a hazardous situation.
- Make sure to protect the ears, face, hands, and feet in extremely cold weather.
- Boots should be waterproof and insulated.
- Wear a hat; it will keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
- Move into warm locations during work breaks; limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
- Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, blankets, a change of clothes, and a thermos of hot liquid.
- Include a medical and environmental thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first aid kit.
- Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
- Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
NIOSH also just kicked off our annual #WorkingInCold messaging on the NIOSH social media accounts. Follow along all winter for tips, tools, and resources to keep you, your employees, your coworkers, and loved ones safe while working in cold. Join the conversation using #WorkingInCold. If you don’t already, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
Stay safe and warm this winter! For additional information on cold stress, visit NIOSH Cold Stress.
- NIOSH Congratulates
- News From Our Partners
- Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program Reports
- Health Hazard Evaluations (HHE)
- New NIOSH Communication Products
- New on the NIOSH Science Blog
- Federal Register Notices
- Call for Abstracts
- Upcoming Conferences & Workshops
- This Month In History
NIOSH Extramural Research and Training Program Annual Report Released
The FY2016 NIOSH Extramural Research and Training Program Annual Report is now available. The document provides information on how NIOSH invested in its multidisciplinary centers, investigator-initiated research projects, and cooperative research agreements. It also reports on NIOSH training project grants, state surveillance programs, small business innovation research, and global health initiatives. Additionally, it describes extramural program contributions to the second decade of NORA (2006–2016). For the latest information on NIOSH-funded extramural activities, visit the NIOSH Extramural Research and Training Programs webpage.
New Compendium Highlights Development of Clinical Decision Support to Enhance Worker Health
A new compilation of articles published in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, describes a NIOSH-led effort to develop and evaluate clinical decision support tools for electronic health records designed to assist primary care clinicians’ with care of their working patients. This is the first effort to systematically develop and assess the practicality and usefulness of providing clinical decision support linked to work through health information systems in the primary care setting. Learn more.
The second annual Safe + Sound Week will be held August 13–19. The event is a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the value of workplace safety and health programs. These programs can help employers and workers identify and manage workplace hazards before they cause injury or illness, improving a company’s financial bottom line. Throughout this week, organizations are encouraged to host events and activities that showcase the core elements of an effective safety and health program, including management leadership, worker participation, and finding and fixing workplace hazards. For more information and to sign up for email updates, visit the Safe + Sound Week webpageexternal icon. NIOSH is one of the many cosponsors of this event.
New RAND Report Assesses NIOSH Work
RAND recently published a set of three case studiesexternal icon assessing the impact of NIOSH research and services on worker health and safety practices and outcomes, including initial estimates of the economic benefit associated with those impacts. The report also provides an analytical framework that may be used for similar case studies in the future.
NIOSH Chief of Staff Honored by Society for Risk Analysis
NIOSH Chief of Staff, Frank Hearl, recently was one of three individuals selected by the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) for the SRA Fellows class of 2017. Fellows were selected for their substantial achievements in science or public policy relating to risk analysis and substantial service to the society. SRA is an international society that provides an open forum for all those interested in risk analysis. Learn moreexternal icon.
Comment Now On New Draft NORA Agendas
- The draft National Occupational Research Agenda for Transportation, Warehousing and Utilitiesexternal icon is open for public comment until January 30.
- The draft National Occupational Research Agenda for Traumatic Injury Preventionexternal icon is open for public comment until February 5.
If you have any questions, contact the NORA coordinator.
Respiratory Health Council Update
The NORA Respiratory Health Cross-sector Council (RHCC) conducted an online meeting on Friday, December 15, for members. Council members discussed potential topics for implementation activities. The Council is at the stage of exploring different options prior to committing to a longer-term project. Visit the RHCC website or contact the NORA coordinator to learn more or to join the council.
New Infographic for NJ Fishermen on Dangers of Old Bombs in the Ocean
A new infographic on dangers in dredging old bombs from the New Jersey ocean floor was recently developed by the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH), Occupational Health Surveillance Unit, and the NJDOH, Food and Drug Safety Program. The infographic was developed in response to a 2016 incident where a New Jersey clam fisherman inadvertently dredged up old munitions from the seafloor off the coast of New Jersey. Per reports, a munition appeared on the conveyor belt during clam processing shipboard and was recognized as a “bomb” by a crew member who then threw it back into the water. The fisherman later developed painful blistering on the right lower and upper arms. The infographic was distributed to NJ shellfish dealers and harvesters and is available onlinepdf iconexternal icon.
Fire Fighter Falls through Floor and Dies at Residential Structure Fire—Ohio
A career fire fighter died due to thermal injuries and smoke inhalation with severe pulmonary edema at a residential structure fire. As the fire fighter crawled into the structure, following a hoseline, the floor collapsed and he fell into the basement. The fire fighter was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Potential Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure in a City Police Department
HHE Program investigators found 13 needlestick injuries and 37 additional exposure incidents across a 6-year period in a force of about 1,000 officers. The police department had not yet adopted the city’s bloodborne pathogens exposure control plan. Investigators recommended using sharps containers for evidence collection and continued training on safe searching techniques. For more information click here.
Evaluation of Exposures in a Vape Shop
HHE Program investigators found low levels of two flavoring chemicals in air samples—diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. Chemical protective gloves were not always used when handling liquids containing nicotine. Investigators recommended not vaping in the workplace with e-liquids containing diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione and training employees on proper chemical handling procedures. For more information click here.
- Mining Publications
- NIOSH Presents: An Occupational Safety and Health Perspective on Robotics Applications in the Workplace
- Musculoskeletal Health Research to Benefit Temporary Retail Workers
- WHO Guidelines to Protect Workers from Nanomaterials
- Musculoskeletal Health Research to Benefit Couriers, Messengers, and Baggage Handlers
- Technology at the North Pole
DRAFT—National Occupational Research Agenda for Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities
The noticeexternal icon was posted on December 1, 2017. Electronic or written comments must be received by January 30.
Workplace Violence Prevention Programs in NJ Healthcare Facilities
The noticeexternal icon was posted on November 22, 2017. Comments must be received by January 22.
Solicitation of Nominations for Appointment to the World Trade Center Health Program Scientific/Technical Advisory Committee (STAC)
The noticeexternal icon was posted on November 7, 2017. Nominations for membership must be received by January 26.
DRAFT—National Occupational Research Agenda for Traumatic Injury Prevention
The noticeexternal icon was posted on December 7, 2017. Comments must be received by February 5.
A Performance Test Protocol for Closed System Transfer Devices Used During Pharmacy Compounding and Administration of Hazardous Drugs; Extension of Comment Period
The noticeexternal icon was posted on July 26, 2017. The comment period was extended to February 28.
World Trade Center Health Program; Request for Nominations of Scientific Peer Reviewers of Proposed Additions to the List of WTC-related Health Conditions
The noticeexternal icon was posted on March 22, 2017. Nominations must be postmarked or submitted electronically by February 1, 2019.
National Occupational Injury Research Symposium (NOIRS)external icon
Deadline for abstract and session submissions is March 2.
19th Conference of the International Society for Respiratory Protectionexternal icon
Deadline for papers and posters submission is March 15.
Kentucky Conference on Health Communicationexternal icon
April 12–14, Lexington, KY
2nd International Symposium to Advance Total Worker Healthexternal icon®
May 8–11, Bethesda, MD
Fifth International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference (IFISH 5)external icon
June 10–13, St. Johns, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
5th International Conference on Occupational & Environmental Health
September 10–12, Hanoi, Vietnam (link coming soon)
19th Conference of the International Society for Respiratory Protectionexternal icon
September 15–20, Denver, CO
National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 2018
October 16–18, Morgantown, WV
A comprehensive list of upcoming conferences is available on the NIOSH website.
On January 2, 2011, the World Trade Center Health Program began with the signing of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. Under NIOSH administration, the program provides health monitoring and treatment for responders to the World Trade Center and related sites in New York City, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, as well as for other survivors in New York City. More information is available on the World Trade Center Health Program website.