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Employer's Duty to Protect Workers From Dangerously Cold Conditions

While some of us would love to close up shop in the midst of a "bomb cyclone," we may not have that luxury, putting employers in the unenviable position of asking employees to work in some frigid conditions. From postmen to presidents, most of us still have to go to work in cold weather, so the question then becomes how to keep your workers safe from some of the most common winter work injuries.

Here are some tips:

OSHA Obligations

As an initial matter, you should already be aware that there are federal and state laws when it comes to the health and safety of your workers. Federal guidelines for workplace safety and health are established and enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and employers must be familiar with and advise their employees of these guidelines.

Employers must also inform employees of the OSHA health and safety standards that apply to their particular workplace, and most employers are required to keep records of any occupational illnesses and injuries that may occur. Finally, employers may not take any retaliatory or discriminatory employment action against a worker who makes an OSHA complaint.

Winter Tips and Tricks

Lucky for you, OSHA has some advice on avoiding injuries, illnesses, and complaints during cold weather months. The administration published a Cold Stress Guide, and put together a list of tips on preventing winter weather and wind chill injuries:

Employers should train workers. Training should include:
    • How to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that can lead to cold stress.
    • The symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent cold stress, and what to do to help those who are affected.
    • How to select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
Employers should:
    • Monitor workers physical condition.
    • Schedule frequent short breaks in warm dry areas, to allow the body to warm up.
    • Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
    • Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
    • Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.
    • Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters.

If you have questions about your legal obligations to worker safety, reporting or documenting work-related injuries, or setting up a plan to keep workers safe during the winter, contact a local employment attorney.

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