Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, P.C. | June 8, 2022 | Workplace Accidents
Individuals who regularly work outdoors or inside in certain positions may be subjected to changing weather patterns. In the summer, this can mean battling the heat and humidity, and in the winter, extra effort may be needed to protect from snow, ice, and freezing temperatures.
While some states, such as California, have begun to adopt laws for individuals exposed to the elements, New York has not. However, some guidelines have been set by OSHA to help employers ensure that workers are protected from injury when working in extreme weather conditions.
What Is Extreme Weather?
Extreme weather occurs when the weather differs from its usual pattern for at least a day. It may involve a heat wave or cold spell, flash flooding, hurricane, or winter snowstorm.
Individuals who work in extreme weather conditions need to take extra precautions to protect themselves. This involves dressing for the weather and taking steps to keep their body temperature at a normal level.
How Should Workers Prepare During a Cold Spell or Snowstorm?
When the weather becomes extremely cold, it’s important to ensure that workers are appropriately dressed. This can keep them from developing conditions such as hypothermia, trench foot, and frostbite.
Dressing for extremely cold temperatures includes:
- Wearing three layers of loose-fitting clothing
- Using a knit mask to cover the face and mouth
- Wearing a hat that covers the ears
- Using insulated gloves and boots to protect the hands and feet
If a worker begins to feel that they are showing the signs of cold stress, such as excessive shivering, loss of coordination, skin that has white patches, or numbness of certain areas of the body, the employer should take steps to help the employee.
The first step should be a call to 911 for medical assistance. While waiting, the person should be moved to a warm area. If possible, any wet clothing should be removed and replaced with dry clothing.
How Should Workers Prepare During Extreme Heat?
Workers who are expected to perform their jobs in hot environments need time to acclimate to changes in temperature. Most workers who become seriously injured or die during hot weather do so because the body needs time to build a tolerance to heat, which requires at least a few days.
If they do not adequately adapt and do not protect themselves from the heat, they may develop conditions such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Individuals who work in extreme heat should ensure that they:
- Wear loose-fitting clothing
- Use a hat to protect themselves from the sun
- Wear sunscreen
- Take regular water and fluid breaks in cooler areas
- Work shorter shifts
Employers should monitor their team for any signs of heat illness. If someone begins to exhibit signs of heatstroke or heat exhaustion, employers should move them to a cooler area or call 911. Heatstroke can result in disability and further complications if it isn’t treated immediately.
What Responsibilities Do Employers Owe to Their Employees?
Unfortunately, New York has not passed any laws designed to protect workers who perform tasks in extreme weather. Workers are expected to dress for the weather and make certain adjustments to protect themselves while on the job.
OSHA does protect workers who work in extreme weather through its General Duty Clause. Under the clause, employers are expected to ensure a safe workplace and remove the potential for hazards that may cause physical harm or death.
However, OSHA stops short of outlining specific requirements for employers who often have employees working in extreme temperatures.
Employers should ensure that workers are appropriately dressed for tasks that occur in extreme weather and provide areas to take breaks from the temperature. They should also provide adequate fluids and regularly monitor their employees for any signs of weather-related illness.