Workers who are required to work outdoors in cold environments for an extended period of time may be at risk for cold stress. Weather extremes, such as high winds, cold temperatures, ice, snow, sleet and freezing rain, present potential hazards to workers. Specifically, cold stress can contribute to:
- Hypothermia occurs when your body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced and your normal body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include shivering, fatigue, dilated pupils, blue skin, and a slowed pulse and breathing.
- Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Symptoms include reduced blood flow to the hands and feet, numbness, aching and waxy or blistered skin.
- Trench foot is caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold temperatures. Symptoms include numbness, leg cramps, swelling, blisters and ulcers.
What Can Workers Do?
To protect yourself whenever you’re working outdoors in extreme cold, consider doing the following:
- Wear several layers of loose clothing to provide insulation.
- Make sure to protect your ears, face, hands and feet.
- Move into warm locations during work breaks.
- Limit the amount of time you spend outside.
- Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in your first-aid kit.
- Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with your bare skin.
If you have any additional questions or concerns regarding cold stress safety at work, consult your supervisor.