The bite of cold environments

The bite of cold environments

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With the beginning of the winter season, we find that employees are often subjected to extreme cold conditions due to their work demands. Employees in the construction industry are the ones we think of when we touch on this subject as they are the ones we know of and work outdoors most of the time. There are other industries that we need to have a look at besides the construction industry. For some work environments, employees are exposed to cold conditions throughout the year due to their work activities.


As part of the cold chain quality requirements, Poultry, Red meat abattoirs and Dairy industries rely greatly on cold rooms and chiller rooms to keep their products at very low temperatures. Their products need to be cooled down in order to prevent microbial activity and maintain product freshness. Some employees, especially Packers and Forklift Operators spend almost their entire shift in these cold environments.


Once the ripening process is completed and products are almost ready to be sold to customers, they are kept in cold rooms while waiting to be sold so that product freshness can be maintained. We also find that Forklift Operators, Cleaners and Quality Inspectors spend some time in these environments.


Most IT equipment like servers and may be prone to overheating and need to be kept at specific low temperatures. This explains why it is always very cold inside server rooms. Maintenance are the ones exposed to this risk. 


Below are some of the medical conditions that employees may suffer from should employers fail to manage their exposure to cold stress. Those are as follows:



What does the law say about these environments and people who work there?  Environmental Regulations for Workplaces is one of the regulations found in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  “1. Subject to the provisions of sub-regulation (2), no employer shall require or permit an employee to work in an environment in which the time-weighted average dry-bulb temperature taken over a period of four hours is less than 6°C, unless the employer takes reasonable measures to protect such employee against the cold……”It is very clear on what employers should do to protect their workers from the effects of Cold stress. Those measures are:

a) Training

Training of employees on the effects of cold stress is important so that they understand the risk of exposure to extreme cold environments and what measures to follow in order to avoid the risk.

b) Personal Protective Clothing

A variety of recommended PPE to be supplied to employees may range from:

- Nylon freezer suit

- Woollen Balaclava

-  Fur-lined leather gloves

-  Woollen socks etc 

c) Administrative Controls

The law doesn’t encourage employers to expose their employees to cold environments, but should there be a need for such to be performed in temperatures below 0°C,

- Employees to be medically certified fit to work in such environments

-  Monitor time spent in such environments and explore the need for employees to be rotated for the duration of the shift.

With the help of qualified Occupational Hygienists, work environments can be monitored, assessed and measured for cold stress in order to determine appropriate control measures specific to that environment. Using the hierarchy of controls, the Occupational hygienist will then recommend the most practical control measures suitable for that environments. Employers need to note that some cold stress related diseases might take time to manifest and therefore they should have proper control of medical records in case they are needed in future. We understand that the saying that “Rome wasn’t built in 1 day” and employers should always strive for continuous improvement of work conditions in favour of their employees’ health.

Written by Juliet Kekana – Managing Director – De-novo HSE Training and Consulting

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This edition

Issue 42