Exposure to cold environmental conditions is a threat that can affect restaurant employees that unload delivery trucks or take inventory in the walk-in coolers. If the worker does not dress appropriately or becomes trapped in a walk-in freezer, they can suffer sever bodily damage from excessive cold.
Workers that are subjected to cold working conditions for extended periods of time can develop one of the following conditions:
- Frostbite. Usually affecting the extremities (hands, feet and nose), frostbite occurs when extreme cold constricts blood flow. If untreated, areas that suffer from frostbite may need to be amputated.
- Hypothermia. This illness results when the body temperature drops below 96 °F (normal body temperature is 98.6°F). If untreated, hypothermia can result in organ damage and death.
What Employees Can Do to Protect Themselves
If dressed appropriately, restaurant workers that are subjected to cold temperatures should not face any ill-effects. Here are some tips that employees can follow to protect themselves from cold-related illnesses:
- Know the warning signs. A tingling sensation or pain in the hands indicate the early stages of frostbite. If someone is becoming hypothermic, their skin will be pale and cold, and their speech can become slurred. Become familiar with these signs and go back inside to allow your body time to warm up.
- Work in pairs. This way someone is present who can help if hypothermia or frostbite occurs.
- Wear warm clothes. A hat, gloves and multiple layers will protect workers from harm.
- Drink a warm beverage. Drinking something warm both before going out into the cold and after coming back inside will help maintain the body’s internal temperature.
- Do not overwork yourself. Muscles require energy to stay warm, and working to the point of exhaustion will only increase your risks of hypothermia or frostbite.
- Take frequent breaks. Either go back inside the restaurant for a while, or find a dry, sheltered area and give your body a few minutes to warm back up before completing your task.
- Allow your body to adjust to the cold. Before performing any work, give your body a few moments to become acclimated to the temperature. If you start working to soon, blood will rush to your limbs, causing your body temperature to drop.
What Employers Can Do to Protect Employees
Commercial kitchen managers are required to provide safe working conditions for their employees. Though mother nature is unpredictable, there are a few things managers or owners can do to protect their employees from cold-related injuries:
- Let employees set their own pace. Do not force employees working in cold environments to work too hard. Overexertion will only increase their risk of developing frostbite or hypothermia. Let them work at their own pace and take extra breaks if needed.
- Schedule deliveries during warm hours. Early afternoon is usually when daytime temperatures are at their highest. Though this may interfere your lunch schedule, taking deliveries at early afternoon during winter months will help minimize employees’ risks of frostbite or hypothermia.
- Check walk-ins regularly. Check units throughout the day and before closing to assure no one is trapped inside.
The following OSHA standards are designed to protect employees who are subject to cold working conditions:
- Standard 1910.37. A panic bar or other means of exiting from the inside of walk-in coolers and freezers must be provided to prevent workers from being trapped inside.
- Standard 1910.132. Employers must supply and enforce the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when employees are performing potentially hazardous tasks. When unloading delivery trucks during cold months or doing work in the walk-in freezer, employees must wear warm clothing to protect themselves from frostbite.
- Standard 1910.22(a)(2). Floors in every workroom must be clean and dry. In walk-in refrigeration units, water or food that has been spilled can freeze and become a slipping hazard.