Home SAFETY PRODUCTS Safety and PPE working in cold storage

Safety and PPE working in cold storage

Workers in cold storage environments are at
risk of cold stress, making personal protective equipment (PPE) a critical last
line of defence against frostbite, hypothermia and death.

According to WorkSafe Victoria’s Safe Operations of Cold Storage Facilities Handbook, a cold environment is defined as one in which greater than normal bodily heat losses occur.

Without action to compensate for these losses,
workers face the onset of cold stress through whole-body or local cooling,
which includes extremity and respiratory tract cooling, wind chill and contact
cooling.

The lower the temperature and the longer the exposure, the greater the
likelihood of frostbite, hypothermia or death occurring.

However, while cold temperatures are a significant risk factor, high or cold winds (or airflow), dampness and cold water
all contribute to cold stress, meaning that it can also occur in temperatures
as high as 10–15°C, alongside wind or rain.

Cold
stress and cold-related illnesses:

Cold stress, frostbite and hypothermia are all
risks when working in cold storage.

Factors that increase vulnerability include
sweating, inadequate or poorly maintained protective clothing, footwear and
equipment, some medical conditions, drugs and alcohol, poor training and lack
of acclimatisation to cold environments.

Symptoms of cold stress include shivering,
accelerated breathing, increased pulse rate and high blood pressure, followed
by reduced brain, nervous system, renal and liver function.

Extremities, such as hands, feet and face, may
be affected by frostbite, which causes skin and tissues to freeze and can be
recognised by grey-white patches, as well as tingling, aching, numbness,
hardness and blisters in the affected areas.

Once the person’s core body temperature drops
below 35°C, hypothermia sets in. While the patient will be alert and shivering
initially, as the situation becomes more severe, shivering stops and confusion,
slurred speech, decreased breathing and lowered heart rate occur, followed by
loss of consciousness and death.

Hazard
control in cold storage:

As with all hazards, employers should follow
the Hierarchy of Control and prioritise using
higher level controls to reduce the risk.

In cold storage environments, this includes
designing workplaces to minimise employee exposure to cold, using automated
equipment to access cold areas, choosing upright or deep freezers over cold
rooms, or using forklifts with insulated/heated cabins.

Additionally, eliminating physical activities
that may cause sweating in cold areas and screening employees to identify and
protect those with relevant medical conditions from being exposed to the cold
can reduce the risk of injury.

Where exposure to cold environments is
unavoidable, administrative controls and PPE may be necessary.

In a Safety Alert issued by SafeWork SA, the
following administrative controls were recommended for cold storage work
environments:

  • Set time limits for workers in
    cold rooms.
  • Regularly test and maintain
    internal door opening mechanisms in cold rooms.
  • Fit cold rooms with internal
    emergency alarms.
  • Provide protective clothing
    appropriate for the duration and temperature of the activity.
  • Use a buddy system to avoid
    working alone and ensure immediate aid in an emergency.
  • Provide appropriate training and
    test drills in emergency procedures.
  • Provide reliable communication
    systems.

PPE for
cold storage environments:

Workers in cold storage should wear clothing,
boots, headgear and gloves that protect against the cold but do not impede
their ability to perform necessary tasks.

Clothing:

Protective clothing should be well-fitted,
visible, insulated, water resistant and durable, with zippers instead of
buttons, which do not provide adequate insulation.

Workers should have sufficient clothing to
always have a spare, clean set available in case they get dirty or wet.

Boots:

Boots should be insulated, water and impact
resistant, anti-slip, well ventilated, flexible and large enough to allow for
multiple pairs of socks and an insole for additional insulation.

Special care should be taken to ensure that
boots fit with trouser legs effectively so that an adequate seal prevents cold
air from entering.

Headgear:

A knitted beanie with a windproof jacket will typically provide sufficient protection to the ears and neck, while also allowing for the removal of layers to cool down if necessary.

A balaclava may be necessary in extremely cold
environments or when sedentary.

Headgear should not hinder other protective
gear from being fitted properly and worn correctly, including hearing and eye
protection.

Gloves:

Gloves should be warm and well-fitted to allow
for manual tasks to be performed, particularly as cold hands can increase the likelihood of an accident
occurring
.

They should fit snugly over or under jacket sleeves to prevent cold air entering, such as the new ProChoice Thermogrip Gloves which come with an extended cuff for additional protection.

If mittens are worn over gloves for increased
insulation, they should attach to jackets so as not to get lost when removed to
perform tasks that require more dexterity.

ProChoice
Safety Gear has a wide range gloves for most workplace tasks and environments.
Click here to view their full range of hand protection.

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