Cold Stress Hazards on the Job: Protecting Yourself When You Work in Cold Temperatures

April 16, 2015

The unrelenting, freezing cold winter weather with biting winds, ice, snow and slush make for hazardous conditions when you have to work outside. Even when you work indoors in unheated or inadequately insulated facilities you are still in danger of facing cold stress injuries.

What is cold stress?

Cold stress is an umbrella term that describes several health conditions that can be brought on from extended exposure to cold temperatures. When the body is subjected to low temperatures, it will expend a lot of energy maintaining its core body temperature to protect vital organs. The blood flow concentrates in the trunk while reducing the flow to the extremities, which leaves the hands and feet vulnerable to injuries from the cold.

Four common cold stress injuries

The four most common injuries related to exposure to cold air and or water temperatures include:

  • When the body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia can set in causing a person’s thinking to become clouded, they begin to move unsteadily, shiver, and become fatigued. Eventually a person suffering from hypothermia can lose consciousness and die.
  • Frostbite occurs in the extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, cheeks and chin. The victim loses feeling in those body parts, they might feel a tingling or stinging sensation, and the skin takes on a pale or waxy appearance.
  • Trench foot. When the feet are exposed to damp conditions for extended periods of time they can develop trench foot, which can occur in temperatures up to 60 degrees F if the feet are constantly wet. The body conserves heat by drawing blood away from the extremities, and the dampness causes the feet to lose heat 25 times faster than when they are dry. The symptoms of trench foot include skin redness, numbness, painful tingling, blisters, ulcers and eventually gangrene.
  • Chilblains, also called pernio, is an injury to the capillary beds in the skin caused by repeated exposure of the skin to temperatures just above freezing up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It appears as redness and itching on the face, ears, nose and toes. The damage is permanent and the redness and itching reappears when exposed to the cold again.

How to protect yourself from cold stress

Here are some tips to follow to protect yourself from injuries that can result from cold stress:

  • Dress in layers of wool, silk and synthetic fibers, which retain their insulating qualities even when they become wet. Outer layers should insulate the body from water, wind, rain and cold temperatures.
  • Cover your head and hands
  • Wear insulated, waterproof boots
  • Wear layers of socks and change them when they become wet
  • Take frequent breaks and drink warm, non-alcoholic beverages
  • Don’t work alone. Work in teams and keep an eye on the temperature, your team mates’ condition, and how long you are out working in the cold
  • What to do for a person who is suffering from hypothermia
  • Bring the person indoors to a warm room
  • Remove wet clothing & wrap in loose blankets or towels covering the head and neck
  • Warm the affected areas with body heat, with skin-on-skin contact.
  • Do not rub or massage skin that might have frostbite
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat from a fireplace, stove or radiator

If you are a worker who has suffered a cold stress injury on the job, you can contact a Philadelphia workers compensation attorney to ask questions about your rights, and how you might pursue a claim for your injuries.

If you have suffered a workplace injury, contact the Philadelphia workers’ compensation attorneys at Larry Pitt & Associates. We can help you plan for your future.