If you work primarily outdoors, you may view the coming winter in Wauwatosa with a certain degree of trepidation. Wisconsin is known for its frigid winters, yet even in those conditions, you still may be expected to work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no set statutes regulating how cold weather work must occur, but related laws still impose a duty of care on your employer for you and all of your coworkers.
Continued exposure to cold temperatures can contribute to several potentially dangerous medical conditions, all of them seemingly related to water. You can quickly become dehydrated in the cold, and having water saturate into your clothes can lead to problems such as trench foot (blisters and swelling in the feet), frostbite (the freezing of skin and underlying tissue) and hypothermia (internal body temperature dropping to below 95 degrees). If you (or a coworker) begins to show signs of any of these conditions, immediate treatment can be required in order to avoid serious (even life-threatening) complications. Thus, your employer should train you and the rest of your team on not only the proper reporting protocols to ensure that whomever is suffering from exposure receives needed medical care, but also treatment methods that can offer help until first responders arrive.
OSHA’s Cold Stress Guide also shows that your employer should consider any engineering controls or amenities it can offer to combat cold, wet conditions. Consistent access to hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate can help warm you and other employees up throughout the day. Break areas equipped with heaters can also help to mitigate an employer’s liability, as can providing changes of clothes in the event that yours become saturated with water.