As more people are being diagnosed with COVID-19 or coronavirus, it is important to know who you have come into contact with on a daily basis. State health departments, employers and the infected themselves have been having a difficult time in determining and/or remembering who the infected person may have come into contact with in trying to trace possible infection vectors.
The Bailey Yard in Nebraska was one of the first railroad yards hit with the virus. As the first patient was identified and put into isolation along with other railroad employees who had come into contact with the patient, one thing became clear: not everyone who had come into contact with the infected person had been identified. As a second person was identified as having the virus, the same problem occurred.
“As vice local chairperson, I was getting calls from employees wondering why they weren’t notified as they had been in contact with one or the other of the positive people. I didn’t have an answer, and we discovered that the positive person bears the burden of knowing who they had been around and are asked this days after they’d been in isolation,” said Amanda Snide of SMART Transportation Division Local 200 in North Platte, Neb.
“We potentially come in contact with so many people during our shifts that it can be hard to keep track of who you were with on what days,” she said. “I have been sharing that I am personally keeping track of whom I’ve been in contact with during my shift. During interactions with other employees I explain why I’m writing their names down and encouraging others to do so.
“Whenever someone new calls to be assisted in the process of being taken out of service as they aren’t feeling well, I tell them to start making a list of who they have been around both at work and outside of work. For someone to have been in contact with a sick person, only to find out days after everyone else is pulled from service, would be a sickening feeling that you potentially spread this unknowingly.”
By taking Snide’s advice in writing down names and contact information, we can be sure that we know exactly whom we’ve been in contact with should the worst occur and then can more easily identify others who have come into contact with the virus.
Snide says that in addition to writing down names and contact information, she also takes steps to keep her family safe. Her work boots stay outside, and she doesn’t touch anything in her home until her work clothes are in the washing machine and she’s showered.
As COVID-19 has infiltrated the bus and rail industries, it’s important that members do their best to try to mitigate its spread. As Snide has suggested, we are recommending that all of our members write down who they have come into contact with each day and keep that list for at least a month. Doing so will help identify who may have been exposed if you come down with the virus.
COVID-19 has hit the transit industry hard with hundreds of cases among passengers and workers alike reported through the media. Only a few cases have been reported on freight carriers thus far, but knowing the conditions that have been reported to the union and the delay by federal agencies to take action, the freight industry could be harder hit. The bus industry has started to report cases as well with Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus just reporting two cases among their bus operators.
Please see this guide produced by OSHA on how to keep yourself and your co-workers safe, and be careful out there!
In May, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) withdrew its proposed rulemaking to require two-person crews on freight trains. The agency then went further and stated that all state laws concerning the subject were preempted by the ruling.
In response, SMART TD President John Previsich testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials in June at a hearing to address the FRA’s decision. In his statement, Previsich described the decision by the FRA as an abdication of its safety oversight duties.
In July, SMART Transportation Division further responded to the FRA by filing a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit Court, asking the court to overturn FRA’s ruling. According to Freightwaves.com, the states of Nevada, Illinois, Washington and California have joined in the fight for two-person crews as well. Nevada, Washington and the California Public Utilities Commission filed petitions with the Ninth Circuit court asking them to review FRA’s decision. Illinois joined the fight for two-person crews August 9, when the state’s governor signed a two-person crew bill into law.
At the SMART TD Regional Meeting in July in San Diego, President Previsich reiterated to members that the union would not take this decision lying down.
“There is going to be a big push coming. We are going to reach out to you when the proper time comes and ask for your assistance,” Previsich told attendees.
The Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program has announced they will be hosting four of their 40-hr Chemical Emergence Response class in October and during the first quarter of next year.
The classes are to be held Oct. 20-25; Jan. 12-17; Feb. 2-7 and Mar. 15-20, 2020 at the Val Jahnke Training Facility located at 8030 Braniff St., Houston, TX 77061. All classes are from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be a Sunday evening orientation at 5:30 p.m. the evening before each class starts. This class should only be taken every three years. Please do not register if you’ve done so in the past three years as space is limited.
The Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program was originally funded in 1990 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) to provide hazardous materials training for rail workers. Since that time, over 27,000 workers have participated in NIEHS-funded training courses that address requirements of OSHA 1910.120 and DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR, Part 172, Subpart H). In 2008 the program received additional funding from the US Department of Transportation to conduct Hazardous Material Instructor Training courses.
The funding provides the following student expenses: travel, lodging and meals. In addition, an incentive of $175.00 per day is available to all training participants of these programs, except those who are able to secure regular pay through their employer, or are paid union officers.
Generally, rail workers do not have the same access to quality hazmat and/or basic safety and health training as workers in many other industries. Both FRA and OSHA share jurisdiction in regulating worker safety and health conditions on railroad property. This joint jurisdiction has generally not been integrated into employer-provided training for rail workers, leaving the majority largely untrained or undertrained to safely perform hazmat-related functions consistent with the requirements set forth by OSHA and DOT. This target population of approximately 150,000 conductors, engineers, brakemen, switchmen, carmen, signalmen, laborers, boilermakers, dispatchers, and maintenance of way workers is represented by the nine rail union affiliates of this cooperative effort
The goal of this training initiative is to provide rail workers with the skills and knowledge necessary to protect themselves, the community, and the environment in a hazardous materials transportation emergency. To achieve this goal, the Rail Workers Hazardous Materials Training Program provides rail workers, through quality hazardous materials training courses, the confidence in their knowledge and problem-solving skills to enable them to make the change for safer work conditions.
Much of the training is provided by peer instructors who are full-time rail workers — members and/or local officers of affiliated rail unions.
On August 8, SMART Transportation Division submitted comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) regarding the proposal of transporting liquid natural gas (LNG) by rail.
In our comments, National Legislative Director John Risch recognizes the potential safety hazards associated with the transportation of LNG by rail, but also points out that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has established safety protocols and procedures to transport it safely.
“Recognizing the safety hazards involved and the work FRA safety experts have already done on this issue, we support the transport of LNG by rail provided the conditions imposed by FRA in their November 2, 2015, letter of authority to the Alaska Railroad, and the restrictions contained in the March 3, 2016, letter to the Florida East Coast Railway are imposed,” Risch wrote.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, June 24, passed an amendment that would block President Donald Trump’s Executive Order in April to the Department of Transportation to fast-track the allowance of liquid natural gas (LNG) to be transported by rail.
“In its never-ending quest to put profit ahead of people, the Trump administration is now trying to bypass long-standing requirements for transportation of LNG by putting it into 100-car trains that roll through densely-populated areas at upwards of 50 miles per hour,” said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D – Ore.), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who introduced the amendment. “This plan is beyond absurd. Should even one tank car get punctured, the results could be devastating. My amendment blocks this brazen attempt by the administration. I urge the Senate to follow suit and stop a massive catastrophe before it’s too late.”
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) moved ahead earlier this month with a plan to authorize six trains, of 100 or more rail tank cars, to move LNG for export through densely populated areas. DeFazio’s amendment would block this special permit as well, which currently is open for comment until July 8.
With Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28) almost upon us, the AFL-CIO today released their annual report on deaths on the job. This year’s focus of the report was workplace violence.
According to the AFL-CIO, “Workplace violence is the third-leading cause of death on the job, resulting in more than 29,000 serious, lost-time injuries for workers each year.”
According to the report, in 2017, 5,147 workers lost their lives on the job as a result of traumatic injuries and each day, an average of 14 workers die due to on-the-job injuries. An estimated, 95,000 people die each year from occupational diseases.
The report also states that nearly 3.5 million workers in the public sector had work-related injuries and illnesses, with an additional 2.8 million injuries reported in the private sector. Due to limitations to the current injury reporting system and widespread under-reporting of injuries in the workplace, the AFL-CIO estimates that the true numbers are two to three times greater than these at about 7.0 million to 10.5 million work-related injuries and illnesses per year.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced their allocations of $345 million left in the DHS competitive preparedness grant programs for fiscal year 2018. The grant money, totaling more than $1.6 billion for 2018, is used to assist states, local areas, tribal and territorial governments, nonprofit agencies and the private sector with their terror preparedness efforts.
Of the $345 million recently allocated, Amtrak received $10 million to “protect critical surface transportation infrastructure and the public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of the Amtrak rail system.”
The DHS allocated $88 million to the Transit Security Grant Program (TSGP). “The TSGP provides money to owners and operators of transit systems to protect critical surface transportation and the traveling public from acts of terrorism and to increase the resilience of transit infrastructure.”
Some of the recipients of the TSGP include Dallas Area Rapid Transit ($542,905), SEPTA ($3.6 million), WMATA ($5.4 million), LACMTA ($6.2 million) and many others.
The Intercity Bus Security Grant Program (IBSGP) was allocated $2 million to “assist operators of fixed-route intercity and charter bus services in high threat urban areas to protect bus systems and the traveling public from acts of terrorism, major disasters and other emergencies.”
Click here for a press release from DHS detailing which agencies are awarded funds.
Sleep deprivation impacts workplace safety, productivity and individual health
(DARIEN, Ill.) March 2018 – Getting insufficient sleep and working while fatigued have become commonplace in the modern 24/7 workforce, with more than 37 percent of workers sleep-deprived.[i] Over-worked and over-tired employees experience cognitive declines and present employers with heightened safety risks and increased economic costs. The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project – including partners the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Sleep Research Society (SRS) and the National Safety Council (NSC) – is launching the “Sleep Works for You” campaign, encouraging employers to help workers avoid fatigue and develop healthy sleep habits for long-term success and well-being.
“Working long hours and sleeping less than the recommended seven or more hours has become a badge of honor in many industries, despite evidence that proves a lack of sleep hurts productivity, safety and overall health,” said AASM President Dr. Ilene Rosen. “It is essential for employers to promote health and safety by creating a workplace culture that values the importance of sleep.”
The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project encourages employers to promote sleep health in the workplace with three steps:
Learn about sleepiness in the workplace, its costs, its causes and how fatigue can lead to a higher rate of safety incidents
Educate employees on fatigue, sleep health and sleep disorders, as well as strategies to improve alertness on the job, as part of a comprehensive employee wellness program
Investigate the causes of fatigue in the workplace and implement fatigue risk management as part of a safety management system
“Nearly 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep problem, and nearly 60 percent of them have a chronic disease that can harm their overall health,” said Janet B. Croft, PhD, senior chronic disease epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health.“Lack of sleep and sleep disorders, including stops in breathing during sleep (sleep apnea), excessive daytime sleepiness (narcolepsy), restless legs syndrome, and insomnia, are increasingly recognized as linked to chronic disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer.”
The Cost of Fatigue
According to the NSC, fatigued workers cost employers about $1,200 to $3,100 per employee in declining job performance each year, while sleepy workers are estimated to cost employers $136 billion a year in health-related lost productivity.
To help employers gauge how much fatigue may be adding to annual expenditures, NSC and Brigham and Women’s Hospital created an online Fatigue Cost Calculator.
“Sleepless nights hurt everyone,” said NSC President and CEO Deborah A.P Hersman. “Many of us have been conditioned to just power through our fatigue, but worker health and safety on the job are compromised when we don’t get the sleep we need. Doing nothing to address fatigue costs employers a lot more than they think.”
Impact of Sleepiness on Safety
Sleepiness causes decreased performance capacity, and tired workers become slower, more error prone and less productive. Research shows that fatigue impairs employees’ ability to function properly and puts them at a greater risk of a safety incident.[ii] In fact, about 13 percent of work injuries are attributable to sleep deprivation.[iii]
Sleepiness also impacts safety for those who drive as part of their job or commute to and from work. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) estimates that fatigue has been a contributing factor in 20 percent of its investigations over the last two decades. That’s why the NTSB included “reduce fatigue-related accidents” on its 2017 – 2018 Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements.
In February, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a research brief estimating that drowsy driving is involved in up to 9.5 percent of all motor vehicle crashes. Projections from the AAA Foundation indicate that drowsy driving causes an average of 328,000 motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. each year, including 6,400 fatal crashes.
Maximizing Health of Shift Workers
The effects of sleepiness are exacerbated and pose a constant struggle for workers who work night shifts or rotating shifts, and for those who work long hours or have an early morning start time. U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show about 15 percent of full-time employees in the U.S. perform shift work, many of whom suffer from chronic sleep loss caused by a disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with an increased risk of depression, obesity, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses that negatively impact a worker’s well-being and long-term health.
There are significant differences in the rate of insufficient sleep among occupations. A recent CDC analysis found that the jobs with the highest rates of short sleep duration were communications equipment operators (58.2%), other transportation workers (54.0%) and rail transportation workers (52.7%).
Night shift workers and those driving during nighttime hours are most at risk for chronic sleep loss. The NSC found that 59 percent of night shift workers reported short sleep duration compared to 45 percent of day workers, while the risk of safety incidents was 30 percent higher during night shifts compared to morning shifts.
Employers with personnel in safety-sensitive positions are urged to implement a fatigue risk management system. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides educational resources on sleep, shiftwork, and fatigue for employees and managers involved in aviation, emergency response, healthcare, railroads and trucking.
Employers can help shift workers fight fatigue by implementing the following strategies:
Avoid assigning permanent night-shift schedules
Assign regular, predictable schedules
Avoid long shift lengths
Give employees a voice in their schedules
Rotate shifts forward when regularly changing shifts
About the National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project
The National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project was initiated in 2013 and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a cooperative agreement with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The project involves collaboration with the Sleep Research Society and other partners to address the sleep health focus area of Healthy People 2020, which provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. The sleep health objectives are to increase the medical evaluation of people with symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea, reduce vehicular crashes due to drowsy driving and ensure more Americans get sufficient sleep. For more information, visit www.projecthealthysleep.org.
[i] Yong LC, Li J, Calvert GM. “Sleep-related problems in the US working population: prevalence and association with shiftwork status.” Occup Environ Med Published Online First: 08 September 2016. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2016-103638
[ii] Lombardi, D. A., Folkard, S., Willetts, J. L., & Smith, G. S. (2010). Daily sleep, weekly working hours, and risk of work-related injury: US National Health Interview Survey (2004–2008). Chronobiology international, 27(5), 1013-1030
[iii] Uehli, K. “Sleep problems and work injuries: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Sleep Med Rev. 2014 Feb;18(1):61-73. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2013.01.004. Epub 2013 May 21.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued three urgent safety recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), acting upon the agency’s findings in two ongoing railroad accident investigations.
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) received one urgent safety recommendation based on NTSB findings in the agency’s investigation of the Feb. 4, 2018, collision of an Amtrak train and a CSX train near Cayce, S.C. The conductor and engineer of the Amtrak train died as a result of the collision. The NTSB issued two urgent safety recommendations to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) based on findings from its investigation of the June 10, 2017, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) accident in which a roadway worker died near Queens Village, N.Y.
In the investigation of the train collision in Cayce, South Carolina, investigators found that on the day before the accident, CSX personnel suspended the traffic control signal system to install updated traffic control system components for the implementation of positive train control (PTC). The lack of signals required dispatchers to use track warrants to move trains through the work territory.
In this accident, and in a similar March 14, 2016, accident in Granger, Wyo., safe movement of the trains, through the signal suspension, depended upon proper switch alignment. That switch alignment relied on error-free manual work, which was not safeguarded by either technology or supervision, creating a single point of failure.
The NTSB concludes additional measures are needed to ensure safe operations during signal suspension and so issued an urgent safety recommendation to the FRA seeking an emergency order directing restricted speed for trains or locomotives passing through signal suspensions when a switch has been reported relined for a main track.
“The installation of the life-saving positive train control technology on the CSX tracks is not the cause of the Cayce, S.C. train collision,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
“While the collision remains under investigation, we know that signal suspensions are an unusual operating condition, used for signal maintenance, repair and installation, that have the potential to increase the risk of train collisions. That risk was not mitigated in the Cayce collision. Our recommendation, if implemented, works to mitigate that increased risk.” said Sumwalt.
During the investigation of the LIRR accident, the NTSB identified an improper practice by LIRR roadway workers who were working on or near the tracks. LIRR employees were using “train approach warning” as their method of on-track safety, but they did not clear the track, as required, when trains approached and their “predetermined place of safety” did not comply with LIRR rules and procedures.
The NTSB is concerned LIRR management is overlooking and therefore normalizing noncompliance with safety rules and regulations for proper clearing of tracks while using “train approach warning” for worker protection. The two urgent safety recommendations to the MTA call for MTA to audit LIRR’s use of “train approach warning” for worker protection, and, to implement corrective action for deficiencies found through the audit.
WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2018 – Operation Lifesaver Inc., (OLI) the national nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting safety at railroad crossings and along railroad rights-of-way, has developed engaging new materials for its trained volunteer speakers to use in safety presentations with students in kindergarten through middle school.
“Operation Lifesaver is working to change people’s behavior around railroad tracks and crossings with our educational materials and tips for people of all ages,” said OLI Interim President Wende Corcoran.
“Every year, approximately 900 trespassers and over 1,000 motorists are involved in incidents along train tracks or at grade crossings,” she continued. “Reaching school-aged students with free presentations by our volunteers that are interesting, fun and that convey lifesaving information is an important part of our multi-faceted approach to reducing those numbers.”
The number of trespassers killed or injured while trespassing on railroad tracks and property rose in 2015 and 2016, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics. Corcoran noted that the new resources have been specifically designed to deliver age-appropriate trespass prevention messages.
The new Operation Lifesaver, Inc. materials include:
The Trains & Tracks presentation, for use with children in grades K-2 or between the ages of 5-8, introduces young children to basic safety messages and train attributes, emphasizing the importance of using caution around trains and tracks. The information is presented as a story, “Train and the Whateveritwas,” which incorporates key safety messages in an entertaining and engaging format.
The Train Safety Savvy presentation, for use with children in grades 3-5 or between the ages of 8-11, covers general safety messages, signs and signals, and trespass prevention messages using information and interactive games sequences to keep the attention of this age group.
The Main Line Middle School presentation, which uses emoji-like characters in a colorful, yearbook-style story line to appeal to smart phone-savvy students in grades 6-8 or ages 11-13, covers general safety messages, signs and signals, and trespass prevention messages.
Corcoran said that the three new educational tools are available for viewing on the OL for Kids section of the Operation Lifesaver, Inc. website. She noted that Operation Lifesaver Authorized Volunteers (OLAVs) may access and download all of these new materials in the Education Materials section of the website, as they do with all OLI presentation materials.
“We are excited to share these new educational materials with students, educators and schools across the U.S.,” said Corcoran.
About Operation Lifesaver – Operation Lifesaver is a nonprofit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail crossings and preventing trespassing on or near railroad tracks. A national network of trained volunteers provides free presentations on rail safety and a public awareness campaign, “See Tracks? Think Train!” equips the public with tips and statistics to encourage safe behavior near the tracks. Learn more athttp://www.oli.org.
Winter weather presents hazards including slippery roads/surfaces, strong winds and environmental cold. Employers must prevent illnesses, injuries or fatalities, by controlling these hazards in workplaces impacted by winter weather.
OSHA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are working together on a public education effort aimed at improving the way people prepare for and respond to severe weather. Here is some information provided by OSHA to help businesses and their workers prepare for winter weather, and to provide information about hazards that workers may face during and after winter storms.
Outdoor work requires proper preparation, especially in severe winter weather conditions. Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, employers have a responsibility to provide workers with employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards, including winter weather related hazards, which are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to them (Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970). Employers should, therefore, train workers on the hazards of the job and safety measures to use, such as engineering controls and safe work practices, that will protect workers’ safety and health.
Employers should train workers
At a minimum, employers should train workers on:
How to recognize the symptoms of cold stress, prevent cold stress injuries and illnesses
The importance of self-monitoring and monitoring coworkers for symptoms
First aid and how to call for additional medical assistance in an emergency
How to select proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions
Other winter weather related hazards that workers may be exposed to, for example, slippery roads and surfaces, windy conditions and downed power lines
How to recognize these hazards
How workers will be protected: engineering controls, safe work practices and proper selection of equipment, including personal protective equipment
Employers should implement safe work practices
Safe work practices that employers can implement to protect workers from injuries, illnesses and fatalities include:
Providing workers with the proper tools and equipment to do their jobs
Developing work plans that identify potential hazards and the safety measures that will be used to protect workers
Scheduling maintenance and repair jobs for warmer months
Scheduling jobs that expose workers to the cold weather in the warmer part of the day
Avoiding exposure to extremely cold temperatures when possible
Limiting the amount of time spent outdoors on extremely cold days
Using relief workers to assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs
Providing warm areas for use during break periods
Providing warm liquids (no alcohol) to workers
Monitoring workers who are at risk of cold stress
Monitoring the weather conditions during a winter storm, having a reliable means of communicating with workers and being able to stop work or evacuate when necessary
Acclimatizing new workers and those returning after time away from work by gradually increasing their workload, and allowing more frequent breaks in warm areas, as they build up a tolerance for working in the cold environment
Having a means of communicating with workers, especially in remote areas
Knowing how the community warns the public about severe weather: outdoor sirens, radio and television
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides multiple ways to stay informed about winter storms. If you are notified of a winter storm watch, advisory or warning, follow instructions from your local authorities: NOAA Weather Radio
Employers should consider protective clothing that provides warmth
Employers must provide personal protective equipment (PPE), for example, fall protection, when required by OSHA standards to protect workers’ safety and health. However, in limited cases specified in the standard (29 CFR 1910.132), there are exceptions to the requirement for employers to provide PPE to workers. For instance, there is no OSHA requirement for employers to provide workers with ordinary clothing, skin creams or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses and sunscreen (29 CFR 1910.132(h)(4)). Regardless of this, many employers provide their workers with winter weather gear such as winter coats/jackets and gloves.
Outdoor workers exposed to cold and windy conditions are at risk of cold stress, both air temperature and wind speed affect how cold they feel. Wind Chill is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss from the human body, resulting from the combined effect of low air temperature and wind speed. The Wind Chill temperature is a single value that takes both air temperature and wind speed into account. For example, when the air temperature is 40°F, and the wind speed is 35 mph, the wind chill temperature is 28°F; this measurement is the actual effect of the environmental cold on the exposed skin.
The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) developed the following Work/Warm-up Schedule for a 4-hour shift takes both air temperature and wind speed into account, to provide recommendations on scheduling work breaks and ceasing non-emergency work.
Cold Stress can be prevented
It is important for employers to know the wind chill temperature so that they can gauge workers’ exposure risk better and plan how to safely do the work. It is also important to monitor workers’ physical condition during tasks, especially new workers who may not be used to working in the cold, or workers returning after spending some time away from work.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information from the nearest NWS office. It will give information when wind chill conditions reach critical thresholds. A Wind Chill Warning is issued when wind chill temperatures are life threatening. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are potentially hazardous.
Who is affected by environmental cold?
Environmental cold can affect any worker exposed to cold air temperatures and puts workers at risk of cold stress. As wind speed increases, it causes the cold air temperature to feel even colder, increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed workers, especially those working outdoors, such as recreational workers, snow cleanup crews, construction workers, police officers and firefighters. Other workers who may be affected by exposure to environmental cold conditions include those in transit, baggage handlers, water transportation, landscaping services and support activities for oil and gas operations.
Risk factors for cold stress include:
Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly and exhaustion
Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes
Poor physical conditioning
What is cold stress?
What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions that are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for “cold stress.” Increased wind speed also causes heat to leave the body more rapidly (wind chill effect). Wetness or dampness, even from body sweat, also facilitates heat loss from the body. Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, and permanent tissue damage and death may result. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia.
Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, employers have a duty to protect workers from recognized hazards, including cold stress hazards, that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm in the workplace.
Employers should train workers. Training should include:
How to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that can lead to cold stress.
The symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent cold stress and what to do to help those who are affected.
How to select proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions.
Monitor workers physical condition.
Schedule frequent short breaks in warm, dry areas to allow the body to warm up.
Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.
Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters.
Types of Cold Stress
Trench foot is a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur in temperatures as high as 60°F if feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet.
What are they symptoms of trench foot?
Reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness and blisters.
Call 911 immediately in an emergency; otherwise seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
Remove wet shoes/boots and wet socks.
Dry the feet and avoid working on them.
Keep affected feet elevated and avoid walking. Get medical attention.
Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissues. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body, and in severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
What are the symptoms of frostbite?
Reddened skin develops gray/white patches in the fingers, toes, nose or ear lobes; tingling, aching, a loss of feeling, firm/hard blisters may occur in the affected areas.
Follow the recommendations described below for hypothermia.
Protect the frostbitten area, e.g., by wrapping loosely in a dry cloth and protect the area from contact until medical help arrives.
DO NOT rub the affected area, because rubbing causes damage to the skin and tissue.
Do not apply snow or water. Do not break blisters.
DO NOT try to re-warm the frostbitten area before getting medical help, for example, do not use heating pads or place in warm water. If a frostbitten area is rewarmed and gets frozen again, more tissue damage will occur. It is safer for the frostbitten area to be rewarmed by medical professionals.
Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol).
Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or immersion in cold water.
What are the symptoms of hypothermia?
An important mild symptom of hypothermia is uncontrollable shivering, which should not be ignored. Although shivering indicates that the body is losing heat, it also helps the body to rewarm itself. Moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia are loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slow, unconsciousness and possibly death. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know what is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Call 911 immediately in an emergency:
Move the worker to a warm, dry area.
Remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing. Wrap the entire body (including the head and neck) in layers of blankets; and with a vapor barrier (e.g. tarp, garbage bag) Do not cover the face.
If medical help is more than 30 minutes away:
Give warm sweetened drinks if alert (no alcohol), to help increase the body temperature. Never try to give a drink to an unconscious person.
Place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest and groin. Call 911 for additional rewarming instructions.
Basic Life Support (when necessary)
Co-workers trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may help a person suffering from hypothermia that has no pulse or is not breathing:
Call 911 for emergency medical assistance immediately.
Treat the worker as per instructions for hypothermia, but be very careful and do not try to give an unconscious person fluids.
Check him/her for signs of breathing and for a pulse. Check for 60 seconds.
If after 60 seconds the affected worker is not breathing and does not have a pulse, trained workers may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes.
Recheck for breathing and pulse, check for 60 seconds.
If the worker is still not breathing and has no pulse, continue rescue breathing.
Only start chest compressions per the direction of the 911 operator or emergency medical services*
Reassess patient’s physical status periodically.
*Chest compression are recommended only if the patient will not receive medical care within three hours.
Although employers cannot control roadway conditions, they can promote safe driving behavior by ensuring workers: recognize the hazards of winter weather driving, for example, driving on snow/ice covered roads; are properly trained for driving in winter weather conditions; and are licensed (as applicable) for the vehicles they operate. For information about driving safely during the winter, visit OSHA’s Safe Winter Driving page.
Employers should set and enforce driver safety policies. Employers should also implement an effective maintenance program for all vehicles and mechanized equipment that workers are required to operate. Crashes can be avoided. Learn more at: Motor Vehicle Safety (OSHA Safety and Health Topic’s Page).
Employers should ensure properly trained workers’ inspect the following vehicle systems to determine if they are working properly:
Brakes: Brakes should provide even and balanced braking. Also check that brake fluid is at the proper level.
Cooling System: Ensure a proper mixture of 50/50 antifreeze and water in the cooling system at the proper level.
Electrical System: Check the ignition system and make sure that the battery is fully charged and that the connections are clean. Check that the alternator belt is in good condition with proper tension.
Engine: Inspect all engine systems.
Exhaust System: Check exhaust for leaks and that all clamps and hangers are snug.
Tires: Check for proper tread depth and no signs of damage or uneven wear. Check for proper tire inflation.
Oil: Check that oil is at proper level.
Visibility Systems: Inspect all exterior lights, defrosters (windshield and rear window), and wipers. Install winter windshield wipers.
An emergency kit with the following items is recommended in vehicles:
Cellphone or two-way radio
Windshield ice scraper
Flashlight with extra batteries
Traction aids (bag of sand or cat litter)
Blankets, change of clothes
Practice cold weather driving!
During daylight, rehearse maneuver slowly on the ice or snow in an empty lot
Steer into a skid
Know what your brakes will do: stomp on antilock brakes, pump non-antilock brakes
Stopping distances are longer on watercovered ice and ice
Don’t idle for a long time with the windows up or in an enclosed space
Drugs and alcohol never mix with driving
Slow down and increase distances between cars
Keep your eyes open for pedestrians walking in the road
Avoid fatigue – Get plenty of rest before the trip, stop at least every three hours and rotate drivers if possible
Stranded in a vehicle
If you are stranded in a vehicle, stay in the vehicle. Call for emergency assistance if needed, response time may be slow in severe winter weather conditions. Notify your supervisor of your situation. Do not leave the vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and get lost in blowing and drifting snow. Display a trouble sign by raising the hood. Turn on the vehicle’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour and run the heat to keep warm. Also, turn on the vehicle’s dome light when the vehicle is running as an additional signal. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Do minor exercises to maintain good blood circulation in your body. Clap hands and move arms and legs occasionally. Try not to stay in one position for too long. Stay awake, you will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems. Use blankets, newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation. Avoid overexertion since cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a vehicle can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.
Shoveling snow can be a strenuous activity, particularly because cold weather can be tasking on the body. There is a potential for exhaustion, dehydration, back injuries or heart attacks. During snow removal, in addition to following the tips for avoiding cold stress, such as taking frequent breaks in warm areas, there are other precautions workers can take to avoid injuries. Workers should warm-up before the activity, scoop small amounts of snow at a time and where possible, push the snow instead of lifting it. The use of proper lifting technique is necessary to avoid back and other injuries when shoveling snow: keep the back straight, lift with the legs and do not turn or twist the body.
Using powered equipment like snow blowers
It is important to make sure that powered equipment, such as snow blowers are properly grounded to protect workers from electric shocks or electrocutions. When performing maintenance or cleaning, make sure the equipment is properly guarded and is disconnected from power sources.
Snow blowers commonly cause lacerations or amputations when operators attempt to clear jams with the equipment turned on. Never attempt to clear a jam by hand. First, turn the snow blower off and wait for all moving parts to stop, and then use a long stick to clear wet snow or debris from the machine. Keep your hands and feet away from moving parts. Refuel a snow blower prior to starting the machine; do not add fuel when the equipment is running or when the engine is hot.
Preventing slips on snow and ice
To prevent slips, trips and falls, employers should clear snow and ice from walking surfaces and spread deicer, as quickly as possible after a winter storm. When walking on snow or ice is unavoidable workers should be trained to:
Wear footwear that has good traction and insulation (e.g. insulated and water resistant boots or rubber over-shoes with good rubber treads)
Take short steps and walk at a slower pace to react quickly to changes in traction
Preventing falls when removing snow from elevated surfaces
OSHA’s Hazard Alert and winter weather webpages provide guidance to employers on how to prevent serious injuries and fatalities. Employers should consider options to avoid working on roofs or elevated heights, plan ahead for safe snow removal and must:
Provide required fall protection and training when working on the roof or elevated heights
Ensure ladders are used safely (e.g. clearing snow and ice from surfaces)
Use extreme caution when working near power lines
Prevent harmful exposure to cold temperatures and physical exertion
Safety Tips for Workers
Your employer should ensure that you know the symptoms of cold stress
Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers
Dress appropriately for the cold
Stay dry in the cold because moisture or dampness, e.g. from sweating, can increase the rate of heat loss from the body
Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change
Drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol)
Use proper engineering controls, safe work practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by your employer
Dressing Properly for the Cold
Dressing properly is extremely important to preventing cold stress. When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, the following would help protect workers from cold stress:
Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation.
An inner layer of wool, silk or synthetic (polypropylene) to keep moisture away from the body. Thermal wear, wool, silk or polypropylene, inner layers of clothing that will hold more body heat than cotton.
A middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.
An outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
Tight clothing reduces blood circulation. Warm blood needs to be circulated to the extremities. Insulated coat/jacket (water resistant if necessary)
Knit mask to cover face and mouth (if needed)
Hat that will cover your ears as well. A hat will help keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
Insulated gloves (water resistant if necessary), to protect the hands
Insulated and waterproof boots to protect the feet
Know your winter weather terms
Blizzard Warning: Issued for sustained or gusty winds of 35 mph or more, and falling or blowing snow creating visibilities at or below 1/4 mile; these conditions should persist for at least three hours.
Wind Chill Advisory: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be a significant inconvenience to life with prolonged exposure, and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to hazardous exposure.
Wind Chill Warning: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life within several minutes of exposure.
Winter Storm Warning: Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, blizzard conditions, heavy freezing rain or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.
Winter Storm Watch: Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain or heavy sleet. Winter Storm watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a winter storm.
Winter Weather Advisories: Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life threatening situations.
In a blow to safety, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) repealed a 2015 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rule that required railroads to implement electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) braking technology on trains hauling hazardous flammable contents.
“Clearly the railroad industry’s overwhelming influence over the Trump administration is paying off in repealing the ECP brake rule,” said SMART TD National Legislative Director John Risch. “ECP brakes are the safest, most advanced braking systems in the world and without some government requirement we will continue to use our current, outdated 150-year-old braking technology for the foreseeable future.”
The ECP brakes mandate was part of the 2015 rulemaking on DOT-117 tank cars. The rule stated that trains meeting the definition of a high-hazard flammable unit train (HHFUT) with at least one tank care with Packing Group I materials must be operated with ECP brakes by Jan. 1, 2021, or face reduced maximum speeds. All other HHFUT’s were required to have the system installed after 2023. DOT defines HHFUT as a single train with 70 or more tank cars loaded with Class 3 flammable liquids.
The Association of American Railroads has been lobbying for repeal of the rulemaking since its 2015 inception.
In Nov. 2017, Risch made comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in support of ECP braking technology. Click here to read those comments.