Wisconsin is a wintery wonderland. I love that about Wisconsin. But as much as I love winter, it can still get too cold for me sometimes. A month ago I took my kids to the Packers-Vikings Game at Lambeau Field (fulfilling my obligations as a Wisconsin parent). That game turned out to be the coldest November game there in over thirty years. My kids and I were bundled up with multiple layers, heater packs, and blankets, and we still only made it through three quarters (yes, we left right before the Packers made a big comeback and fought the Vikings to a tie in overtime).
So how to the guys on the field stand it? Some of them play in short sleeves, although many Packers will admit that they don’t like playing in the cold and they have lots of tricks to deal with Green Bay’s frigid weather. But at least the football players get time on the sidelines, with bench and foot warmers and those huge overcoats. What about the other guys on the field – the refs? Just last weekend, during a snowstorm, one of the refs for the Packers game was only wearing a baseball cap and no gloves. And the refs are out on the field for the entire playing time!
That’s a pretty tough job in the cold, which led me to wonder…can the refs claim that working games at Lambeau Field or some of the other cold climate stadiums constitutes working under hazardous conditions? [This same rationale applies to the players as well, of course. But NFL football players already have other hazardous conditions that are more serious. So dealing with the cold is probably less pressing for them.]
Under Wisconsin law, employers owe a duty to their employees to furnish and maintain a place of employment as safe as the nature of its business would reasonably permit. See Wis. Stat. § 101.11. OSHA states that working in extremely cold conditions can be dangerous. The CDC lists extreme cold as a physical hazard. And workers’ compensation insurance funds recognize that working in extremely cold conditions can be dangerous.
The issue then is whether working in the cold at Lambeau Field (or Soldier Field – but you don’t need to be as tough there!) is reasonably safe, given the nature of the business. Presumably (given my inability to find any cases addressing this issue), so long as the NFL and the team owners provide enough warm gear and heating equipment, it is safe enough. Unless or until there’s a requirement that all cold weather teams play in domes (which doesn’t seem likely – and the Vikings are playing their last game at the Metrodome right now), football employees will just need to dress warmly (ref, please put on a winter hat!), stay hydrated, and brace themselves for the cold.
So, as the Packers prepare to take on the Bears for the title of the NFC North Division Champion this afternoon, I have just four words to say. STAY WARM. And…GO PACKERS!