Keep employees safe in the extreme temperatures of cold storage facilities by recognizing potential hazards and implementing proper preventative measures. Refrigerated and freezer storage introduces new hazards for workers who spend the majority of their time in cold storage warehouses and low-temperature rooms in ambient facilities. Risks range from cold-induced health concerns like hypothermia to slips and falls on slippery floors. This helpful guide to cold storage warehouse safety teaches you to recognize, prepare for, and prevent hazards.

What Is Cold Storage?

Cold storage can refer to refrigerated or freezer rooms in ambient warehouses as well as entire facilities dedicated to keeping products at a set cold or below-freezing temperature. Used to store everything from medicines to fresh meat and produce to delivery meal kits, climate-controlled facilities are integral to the quality and safety of the goods they house. With temperatures in cold storage reaching -4°F or lower, managers and employees alike must understand how to stay safe when working in these extreme conditions.

How to Mitigate Potential Hazards in Cold Storage

Extreme temperatures in cold storage facilities pose several risks, but understanding and addressing potential hazards can increase employee safety. While OSHA does not offer specific guidelines for cold storage, its general industry standards extend to these climate-controlled environments. 

Slippery Floors

OSHA 1910.22(a)(3) requires that “walking surfaces are maintained free of hazards such as[…]snow and ice.” Slippery floors in cold storage are often the result of condensation caused by frequently fluctuating temperatures. This is especially common at cold storage facility entrances or near doorways to refrigerated and freezer spaces. Regularly check for ice build-up in these vulnerable parts of your facility, and take strategic steps to mitigate slip and fall hazards associated with slippery floors in cold storage:

  • Install anti-slip floor tape in high-traffic areas, in doorways, around coolers, and in other problem areas. Designed to increase traction on slippery floors, non-skid tape can mitigate risk when strategically installed where hazardous conditions may be present. 
  • Use Superior Mark™ floor tape to mark walkways, entry points, and hazard zones. Use yellow or orange markings to urge caution as part of a color-coded approach to visual cues, or opt for repeating message tape that uses text and graphics to reinforce caution messaging.
  • Post floor signs that encourage cautious movement, draw attention to hazard areas, and provide reminders of PPE requirements. Rubber signs are naturally slip-resistant, making them an ideal option for vulnerable areas in cold storage facilities.

Inadequate Lighting

Inadequate or improper lighting can pose many hazards in cold storage facilities. Dim lighting impedes an employee’s ability to identify potential hazards, see posted safety messages, and spot signs of spoilage or damage in stored goods. Reduced visibility can also introduce trip and fall hazards. To maximize productivity, safety, and product quality in cold storage facilities, upgrade lighting for improved visibility throughout your cold-storage space. Consider installing motion-sensor lights in less frequented areas to save on energy costs and avoid unnecessary glare, which can be particularly problematic on reflective surfaces such as ice or metal. If you choose to supplement your lighting with glowing or reflective tape for improved visibility, look for products made with materials that adhere well, are easy to apply and remove, and can stand up to cold temperatures and heavy traffic.

Work Practices and Awareness

Extreme temperatures are hard on the body and can exacerbate physical risks associated with manual labor. Implement work practices that promote physical safety and raise employee awareness of concerns about working in the cold. 

  • Urge extra caution for workers in cold environments. Employees should avoid rushing to complete tasks, carrying heavy loads, and using improper lifting techniques, all of which can contribute to falls on slippery floors.
  • Supplement sufficient training with signage for physical safety. Post maximum weight limits for carrying alongside messaging that encourages the use of dollies or forklifts for lifting heavier loads.
  • General employee training should cover how to spot condensation and ice buildup, how to clean and maintain key areas (such as battery and refrigerant stations), and how extreme temperatures affect the functions of the machinery they operate. Employees should also keep an eye out for cracks in cold storage floors, which can allow warm air to seep into the room, creating condensation that causes slippery floors.

Cold Stress

Caused by a combination of low temperatures, dampness, or inadequate clothing, cold stress occurs when your body struggles to maintain its core temperature in chilly environments. It can lead to significant health risks, including frostbite and hypothermia. 

Employers have a responsibility to keep their employees safe. OSHA standard 1910.132(a) requires that “protective equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE) for eyes, face, head, and extremities, [and] protective clothing…shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary.” Warehouse managers can help prevent cold stress for workers by providing proper cold-temperature clothing, including gloves, hats, and face protection, and following steps to improve compliance with PPE requirements.

 Employers should also provide sufficient training and education about how to recognize the risk factors and early warning signs of cold-related maladies, as well as how to apply first aid treatment for cold stress. Post custom signage in key locations throughout your facility; include messaging that outlines early indicators of cold stress and reinforces proper protocols and prevention strategies for employees, including taking frequent breaks.

Walk-In Cooler and Freezer Hazards

While the same hazards and prevention methods apply to walk-in coolers and freezers as entire cold storage warehouses, entrapment is a primary concern in these spaces. Communication is the main method of prevention: Before workers enter cold storage rooms, they should communicate clearly with their coworkers about their plan and how long they will be inside. Employees should also wear warm clothing when entering refrigerated or freezer rooms, and take care to prevent doors from being blocked. 

Post custom signs and floor tape reminding workers of these recommended actions. A large sign with “STOP”  lettering followed by specific instructions is an attention-grabbing way to remind workers to put on PPE, tell a coworker they’re entering the refrigerated space, and check the internal safety mechanism to ensure the door can be opened from inside. 

Cold and freezer storage facilities pose risks for employees who are not familiar with working in extreme environments. From requiring the right PPE to preventing slips and falls, follow practical tips for identifying and preventing cold storage hazards to increase safety and productivity for employees. Explore our Resource Center for more advice for managing and increasing safety in industrial facilities.