Personal Protective Equipment - Cold Environments

People who work in cold temperatures such as freezer plants, meat-packing houses, cold storage facilities, lumbering, telecommunications, and electric utilities must deal with cold environments. The frequency of worker accidents is higher in cold environments because nerve impulses are inhibited and hands can stiffen and become clumsy. Temperature-related safety problems include ice, snow blindness, reflections from snow, and burns from skin contact with cold metal surfaces.
The main factors contributing to cold injury are exposure to humidity and high winds, contact with wetness or metal, inadequate clothing, age, and general health. Contributing physical conditions include allergies, vascular disease, excessive smoking and drinking, sedative drugs, and some medicines. Cold disorders are classified as “generalized” as in hypothermia or “localized” such as frostbite.

Generalized: Hypothermia

Exposure to cold can cause the body’s internal temperature to drop to a dangerously low level. This condition is known as hypothermia. It can occur at temperatures above freezing. Cold, wet, windy conditions are ideal for causing hypothermia.
  • Uncontrollable shivering;
  • Sensation of cold;
  • Inability to use the hands;
  • Vague, slow, or slurred speech;
  • Memory lapses or forgetfulness;
  • Frequent stumbling; and
  • Incoherence and drowsiness.

Localized: Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when the body extremities do not receive sufficient heat, either because of poor circulation or inadequate insulation. Body tissue which freezes due to exposure to extremely low temperatures results in tissue damage. The most vulnerable body parts include the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes.
  • Sensation of coldness, followed by numbness
  • Skin becomes bright red, then small patches of white appear as freezing actually occurs;
  • A tingling, stinging, or aching feeling may follow;
  • Skin becomes less elastic;
  • Initial pain is felt, which subsides; and
  • Blisters may appear.
Frostnip occurs when the face or extremities are exposed to a cold wind which causes the skin to turn white.

Evaluating work conditions

The effects of cold temperatures on workers can be reduced through appropriate protective clothing, heating units, and other protective devices such as:
  • Heated warming shelter at work site.
  • General or spot heating to increase workplace temperature.
  • Warm air jets or radiant heaters to warm the hands of employees performing fine hand work.
  • Shields for job site protection from wind and drafts.
  • Metal tool handles and control bars should be covered with insulating material.
  • Appropriate and adequate clothing worn by workers. Dirty or greasy fabric looses much of its insulation value. Clothing should be cotton or wool, denim has poor insulating qualities. Boots, mittens or gloves should be insulated and face and head protection should be worn.
  • Chemical-resistant gloves should be available for chemical handling operations.

Evaluating the facility

Buildings should be evaluated for adequate protection from cold weather. Cold weather damage most often occurs in exposed, out-of-the-way areas of a facility during weekends or other shutdown periods. Failure to identify areas likely to be susceptible to cold weather damage and improper maintenance also contribute to cold weather damage.

General Life-Threatening Hazards

Water protection

A Coast Guard-approved life jacket or buoyant work vest should be used if there is danger of falling into water while working. For emergency rescue operations, boats and ring buoys with at least 90 feet of line must be provided.


Night workers and flagmen who might be struck by moving vehicles need suits or vests designed to reflect light.

Lifelines and safety nets

In jobs involving potential fall hazards, lifelines, body harnesses, and/or lanyards must be used. If lifelines are used where they might be cut accidentally, they should be padded or otherwise protected. Rope should have a strength of 5,400 pounds. Lifelines should be inspected regularly to assure their perfect condition.
Lanyards should be of at least 1/2-inch nylon or the equivalent and should be short enough to allow a fall no greater than six feet. They must be firmly secured above the working surface. Body harnesses are required for personal fall arrest systems.
Nets should be used when a lifeline or a body harness is not practical. Forged steel, safety hooks, or shackles should be used to fasten a net to its supports. The mesh should be no larger than 6 x 6 and the nets should extend beyond the edge of the work surface. Safety nets must be tested to ensure that they are tight enough to prevent an employee from making contact with any surface or structure below.

Heat stress

Wearing PPE puts a worker at considerable risk of developing heat stress. This can result in health effects ranging from transient heat fatigue to serious illness or death. Heat stress is caused by a number of interacting factors, including environmental conditions, clothing, workload, and the individual characteristics of the worker.
Individuals vary in their susceptibility to heat stress. Factors that may predispose someone to heat stress include:
  • Lack of physical fitness, lack of acclimatization, age,
  • Dehydration, obesity, substance abuse, infection,
  • Sunburn, diarrhea, and chronic disease.
Reduced work tolerance and the increased risk of excessive heat stress is directly influenced by the amount and type of PPE worn. PPE adds weight and bulk, severely reduces the body’s access to normal heat exchange mechanisms (evaporation, convection, and radiation), and increases energy expenditure.
When selecting PPE, each item’s benefit should be carefully evaluated in relation to its potential for increasing the risk of heat stress. Once PPE is selected, the safe duration of work/rest periods should be determined based on the:
  • Anticipated work rate,
  • Ambient temperature and other environmental factors,
  • Type of protective ensemble, and
  • Individual worker characteristics and fitness.

Physical condition

Physical fitness is a major factor influencing a person’s ability to perform work under heat stress. The more fit someone is, the more work he/she can safely perform.
At a given level of work, a fit person, relative to an unfit person, will have:
  • Less physiological strain;
  • A lower heart rate;
  • A lower body temperature, which indicates less retained body heat (a rise in internal temperature precipitates heat injury);
  • A more efficient sweating mechanism;
  • Slightly lower oxygen consumption; and
  • Slightly lower carbon dioxide production.

Level of acclimatization

The degree to which a worker’s body has physiologically adjusted or acclimatized to working under hot conditions affects his or her ability to do work. Acclimatized individuals generally have lower heart rates and body temperatures than unacclimatized individuals, and sweat sooner and more profusely.
This enables them to maintain lower skin and body temperatures at a given level of environmental heat and work loads than unacclimatized workers. Sweat composition also becomes more dilute with acclimatization, which reduces bone loss.

Revision 6/08 Foot Protection

Employees have to wear protective footwear when working in areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, or objects piercing the sole, and where employees’ feet are exposed to electrical hazards. In the foot protection standard, OSHA requires that safety shoes and boots must meet the protective criteria defined in the ANSI Z41-1991 standard for both impact and compression protection.
However, in 2005, two new industry standards for protective footwear, ASTM F 2412, Test Methods for Foot Protection, and F 2413, Specification for Performance Requirements for Protective Footwear replaced ANSI Z41, which was withdrawn. The ASTM standards contain minimal changes from the withdrawn ANSI Z41-1999 standard with regard to test methodology and will permit the continued use of safety and performance standards previously provided in the ANSI document.
The ASTM standards continue the long-standing effort to protect against toe, metatarsal, and foot bottom injuries and contain expanded information on upper Class 50 and Class 75 toe protection performance requirements. The major performance characteristics that have changed are the removal of those for Type II Static Dissipative and Class 30 for impact and compression requirements.
Since the withdrawal of ANSI Z41, all new footwear found in compliance with the ASTM F 2412-05 and ASTM F 2413-05 standards may be labeled as such. References to the old ANSI Z41 can be replaced with labeling indicating that the footwear is compliant with the ASTM standards for new products. OSHA’s protective footwear regulation at §1910.136(b) continues to require that footwear purchased after July 5, 1994 has to meet the construction criteria established by ANSI Z41-1991, or be demonstrated by the employer to be equally effective.
Safety shoes or boots with impact protection would be required for carrying or handling materials such as packages, objects, parts or heavy tools which could be dropped, and for other activities where objects might fall onto the feet. Safety shoes or boots with compression protection would be required for work activities involving skid trucks (manual material handling carts) around bulk rolls (such as paper rolls) and heavy pipes, all of which could potentially roll over employees’ feet. Safety shoes or boots with puncture protection would be required where sharp objects could be stepped on, causing a foot injury.
According to the BLS survey, most of the workers in selected occupations who suffered impact injuries to the feet were not wearing protective footwear. Furthermore, most of their employers did not require them to wear safety shoes. The typical foot injury was caused by objects falling less than four feet and the median weight was about 65 pounds. Again, most workers were injured while performing their normal job activities at their worksites.
For protection of feet and legs from falling or rolling objects, sharp objects, molten metal, hot surfaces, and wet slippery surfaces workers should use appropriate footguards, safety shoes, or boots and leggings.
Aluminum alloy, fiberglass, or galvanized steel footguards can be worn over usual workshoes, although they present the possibility of catching on something and tripping workers. Heat-resistant soled shoes protect against hot surfaces like those found in the roofing, paving, and hot metal industries.
Leggings protect the lower leg and feet from molten metal or welding sparks. Safety snaps permit their rapid removal.

Other foot and leg protection

Other options for protective footwear include:
  • Shoes and boots with instep protection;
  • Insulated boots for protection against extreme temperatures;
  • Boots with built-in ankle protection;
  • Rubber or plastic safety boots that are effective against water, oil, acids, corrosives, and chemicals;
  • Foundry shoes with elastic gores rather than laces to provide easy removal in case sparks or hot metal get inside; and
  • Add-on protections such as metatarsal guards, shoe covers, rubber spats, strap-on cleats, and puncture-proof steel inserts.
Aluminum alloy, fiberglass, or galvanized steel footguards can be worn over usual workshoes, although they present the possibility of catching on something and tripping workers.
Heat-resistant soled shoes protect against hot surfaces like those found in the roofing, paving, and hot metal industries.
Leggings protect the lower leg and feet from molten metal or welding sparks. Safety snaps permit their rapid removal.

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