Recommendations to Improve Employee Thermal Comfort When Working in 40°F Refrigerated Cold Rooms
Cold rooms are commonly used for food storage and preparation, and are usually kept around 40°F following food safety guidelines. Some food preparation employees may spend 8 or more hours inside cold rooms. These employees may not be aware of the risks associated with mildly cold temperatures, dampness, and limited ventilation. We performed an evaluation of cold rooms at an airline catering facility because of concerns with exposure to cold temperatures. We spoke with and observed employees in two cold rooms, reviewed daily temperature logs, evaluated employee's physical activity, work/rest schedule, and protective clothing. We measured temperature, percent relative humidity, and air velocities at different work stations inside the cold rooms. We concluded that thermal comfort concerns perceived by cold room employees may have been the result of air drafts at their workstations, insufficient use of personal protective equipment due to dexterity concerns, work practices, and lack of knowledge about good health and safety practices in cold rooms. These moderately cold work conditions with low air velocities are not well covered in current occupational health and safety guidelines, and wind chill calculations do not apply. We provide practical recommendations to improve thermal comfort of cold room employees. Engineering control recommendations include the redesigning of air deflectors and installing of suspended baffles. Administrative controls include the changing out of wet clothing, providing hand warmers outside of cold rooms, and educating employees on cold stress. We also recommended providing more options on personal protective equipment. However, there is a need for guidelines and educational materials tailored to employees in moderately cold environments to improve thermal comfort and minimize health and safety problems.