Working in a cold environment
Many workplaces and work tasks expose employees to different types of cold environments. These can include cool-rooms, freezers and chilled areas such as meat preparation areas, or open areas of the workplace such as receiving areas and green life departments.
Excessive exposure to cold conditions can seriously threaten your health and safety, just as excessive exposure to hot conditions does.
At very cold temperatures the greatest concern is the risk of hypothermia or dangerous over-cooling of the body which can be fatal without immediate medical attention.
Warning signs of hypothermia can include nausea, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, euphoria, pain in extremities and severe shivering.
Working in cold environments can also cause flare-ups of cold related health problems such as asthma, arthritis, sinus irritation and viral, lung and respiratory diseases. Cold environments can also impair dexterity, coordination and mental skills which can cause a decline in performance and safety.
Under NSW Health and Safety legislation an employer must ensure their employees’ health and safety at work, so far as is reasonably practical. This includes ensuring employees are not put at risk from any duties undertaken, such as working in cold environments.
Risk assessments should be conducted which allow input from the employees working in such conditions. This ensures proper safety measures are established to minimise - if not eliminate - any risks caused by such environments.
When conducting such assessments, the following factors should be considered:
- Air movement - this can greatly increase the chance of injury from cold, and should be minimised as much as possible
- Wetness - whether from the environment or from water or other liquids coming into contact with the skin
- Sweating - heavy sweating results in wet clothing which can lead to a rapid cooling of the body
- Under-dressing and over-dressing
- Levels of activity
- Contact with cold objects - this takes heat out of the body
- Being tired, hungry or thirsty
- Medical conditions, especially those affecting the circulatory system, such as diabetes, under active thyroid and heart disease
- Some medications.
An employer should supply suitable protective clothing (PPE) for working in a cold environment. This includes a fully insulated jacket or parka with hood and fully insulated protective gloves.
Employees may also be entitled to a cold allowance depending on their Enterprise Agreement.
For more information about working in a cold environment or cold allowances contact the Newcastle SDA office on 4961 4694.