Insights on Environmental Health & Safety (EHS), Operational Risk and Product Stewardship

Extreme Cold Is an Extreme Hazard for Businesses, Too

January 29th, 2019
Sphera MRO Team
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The weather outside is frightful—and fierce—in the Midwest.

In Chicago, for example, where Sphera’s global headquarters is based, the temperature is expected to plunge to -23 degrees F (-30 degrees C) on Jan. 30, 2019, the second coldest recorded reading in Chicago history. The wind chills will add even more grief to everyone’s day by making it feel like -50 degrees F (-46 degrees C). For reference, the predicted low temperature in the South Pole is forecast to be a balmy-er -21 degrees F (-29 degrees C). This might give new meaning to “flying south for the winter.”

The last time it was this cold in the Chicago area was Jan. 20, 1985, when the temperature hit a record -27 degrees F (-33 degrees C). Incidentally, the Chicago Bears would go on to win the Super Bowl that season behind a talented team with a rookie defensive lineman who seemingly had ice running through his veins. William Perry would go on to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and become a legend in the city. His nickname, of course, was “The Fridge.” Football fans in the Windy City are hopeful that history will repeat itself now that the arctic weather has returned.

For people working in cold conditions, the risk of extreme cold is obvious: Frostbite can kick in after less than 10 minutes of exposure.

Additionally, as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) explains: “Workers who are exposed to extreme cold or work in cold environments may be at risk of cold stress.” Besides frostbite, prolonged exposure to extreme cold can lead to hypothermia, trench foot (overexposure to cold, wet conditions) and chillblains (damage to the blood vessels under the skin).

Business During Brr …

For companies, extreme cold can also generate an extreme amount of Operational Risk. In the United States, employees have a right to refuse dangerous work, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and can file a complaint within 30 days should an employer force them to continue working in dangerous conditions. The maximum penalty for an OSHA violation is $13,260 with willful or repeated violations running up to $132,598 per penalty.

“Although OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments,” the government agency writes on its site, “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.”

In a recent court case, a trucking company was ordered to reinstate a worker and pay backpay after it terminated an employee who left his trailer behind to seek shelter after waiting “several hours” for assistance when the brakes on the truck’s trailer froze and the heater in his cab was not working.

Additional Operational Risks from low temperatures could include frozen pipes, especially in crawl spaces, warehouses and isolated storage areas. As insurance company Travelers wrote on its blog, “Fire protection sprinkler systems are dependent on the ability of water to flow freely when needed. Ensure that wet piping systems, which may be subject to cold temperatures, are sufficiently heated to prevent freezing.”

Equipment Goes Cold

Another risk that could surface as surface temperatures plummet is that your equipment won’t be able to handle the cold. A recent post on the Balance Small Business website discusses the risk of heavy machinery failing when it gets too chilly outside. The blog explains the importance of preventive maintenance to keep that from happening, including ensuring that coolant is mixed correctly to keep engines running and batteries are sufficiently charged. Any equipment that can’t be used because of cold-related problems means production stops completely, and people could potentially be at risk for extreme cold exposure. Not good.

To make sure equipment is running smoothly when the Mercury plummets, Sphera’s Maintenance, Repair and Operations (MRO) solutions are designed to help companies manage those Operational Risks. To learn more about MRO and other Operational Risk solutions, contact Sphera via our website.

Sphera MRO Team

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