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The Risks of Cold Stress

February 17, 2021

Workers who are required to work outdoors in cold environments for extended periods 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?

When cold environments or temperatures cannot be avoided, workers should follow these recommendations:

  • Wear several layers of loose clothing to provide insulation.
  • Make sure to protect your ears, face, hands and feet.
  • Wear a hat, it will keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.
  • 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.

What Can Employers Do?

As part of a relevant health and safety plan, employers should educate employees on what cold stress is, how to recognize symptoms, prevent it, and, if needed, how to apply first aid treatment for cold stress. Too, employees should know the reporting requirements as it relates to a Workers’ compensation claim.

Employers should consider safety measures such as providing workers frequent breaks in warm areas with warm liquids (no alcohol); acclimatizing new workers and those returning after time away from work, by gradually increasing their workload to build up a tolerance for working in the cold environment; offering engineering controls like outdoor heaters and wind shields; and training workers on proper personal protective gear.

“For extreme conditions, train and dialogue with workers on how to identify cold-induced symptoms to mitigate any illness or injury,” said Tammy Spear, Director of Human Resources & Special Programs/Commercial Lines Operations Manager. “Training is key to keeping your workforce safe and healthy”.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a helpful Cold Stress Guide which can be found here.

If you have any additional questions about cold stress safety training for your employees, consult an Avery representative.


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Avery Insurance Agency
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