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Training: Cold Stress and Related Dangers

Cold stress can be an issue for workers that are required to labor in any type of cold environment for an extended amount of time. During cold temperatures, the human body works harder to maintain a consistent internal temperature. According to OSHA, cold stress occurs when an individual’s core (or internal) temperature is lowered by a reduction in the skin’s temperature as a result of exposure to weather elements.

Prevention is the most important key to successfully combating cold stress and the related dangers. Prevention is a shared responsibility between employers and workers. Employers can provide worker training on how to prevent, recognize, and react to cold stress illnesses and injuries in the workplace. Additionally, employers should provide engineering controls, establish safe work practices, policies, and procedures, and provide warm break areas. However, employees must dress properly and use the proper PPE to effectively prevent cold stress illnesses and accidents.

Although cold temperatures play a significant role in cold stress, there are other factors that contribute to the impact and severity of cold stress. These factors include wind chill, level of moisture, level of preparedness (both with dressing appropriately and first aid training), and worker’s personal health and physical condition at the time of exposure to the elements. Some of the potential health problems or bodily damages are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.

Below are some general guidelines for hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot:

  • Hypothermia – the body loses heat faster than it can be replaced
    • General characteristics of hypothermia consists of the normal body temperature drops below 95 degrees F, the body may begin to shiver, and the worker may stomp feet to generate heat.
    • Moderate to severe symptoms are indicated when the worker begins to lose coordination, fumbles things in their hands, becomes confused or disoriented, becomes unable to stand or walk, pupils dilate, breathing or pulse weaken, or the worker loses consciousness.
    • Medical treatment – Always call 911 and follow the dispatcher’s specific instructions. In general, while waiting for trained medical professionals, you may move the worker to a warm, dry location, remove all wet clothes and replace with dry ones, cover the entire body (including the head and neck, but not the face) with layers of blankets and a vapor barrier (such as a tarp or trash bag).
  • Frostbite – an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues
    • General rule of thumb is the lower the temperature, the faster frostbite will occur. Typically, frostbite affects the feet and hands, or other extremities, first. In severe cases, amputation may be required.
    • Characteristics of frostbite include reddened skin that develops gray and/or white patches with numbness in the affected area that feels firm or hard. In severe cases, blisters may occur in the affected area.
    • Medical treatment – Same as hypothermia. Always call 911 and follow the dispatcher’s specific instructions. In general, while waiting for trained medical professionals, avoid rubbing the affected areas, as this will cause more damage. Do not apply snow and/or water to the affected areas. Avoid breaking the blisters. Loosely cover and protect the affected areas from contact.
  • Trench Foot – condition caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold temperatures
    • Generally speaking, trench foot can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees F, if the feet are constantly wet, because wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. The body attempts to minimize the heat loss by constricting the blood vessels, which shuts down circulation to the feet. The lack of circulation restricts oxygen and allows toxic build-up.
    • Symptoms for trench foot are redness of the skin, swelling, numbness, and blisters
    • Medical treatment – Call 911 in an emergency and follow the dispatcher’s specific instructions. Otherwise, seek medical treatment as soon as possible after removing the shoes or boots and wet socks and drying the feet.

Have questions regarding Cold Stress and its related dangers?  Need help getting the proper training for the elements? Contact us today!