Working in cold temperatures increases the risk of cold stress injuries and illnesses. Prepare for cold stress with proper cold weather safety.
What is Cold Stress?
Cold stress is a condition caused by a significant decrease in your body temperature resulting in the inability to naturally warm up. Higher risks of illness and injury are associated with cold stress. Exposure to cold temperatures (winter weather, freezers, cold storages, cold warehouses) increases the likelihood of cold stress injuries. Wind chill, dampness, cold water and snow all draw heat away from the body and lower your body’s ability to maintain its core temperature, increasing your risk of cold stress related illness.
Types of Cold Stress
According to OSHA, the most common types of cold stress dangers include hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. Each cold stress hazard has unique warning signs, yet all can be prevented with proper cold weather safety procedures.
Hypothermia means your body can no longer sustain internal warmth. Symptoms may include shivering, slurred words, and confusion. Provide warmth immediately to prevent severe damage.
Frostbite is the freezing of parts of the body, most commonly fingers and toes. Numbness, tingling, and aching are symptoms of frostbite. Provide warmth quickly, but avoid massaging or walking.
Trench Foot is a non-freezing syndrome caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions. Tingling, swelling, numbness and blisters are the most common symptoms. Remove wet layers and provide warm, dry conditions as quickly as possible.
Cold Stress Prevention
Preventing cold stress requires adjustments in the working environment, proper cold weather gear, and warming breaks. Follow these winter preparedness tips for increased safety in cold workplace environments.
- Wear loose layers and moisture wicking clothing close to the skin to prevent moisture buildup.
- Hats and head coverings should be worn to prevent body heat from escaping.
- Wear loose, insulated, waterproof, and wind resistant outer layers to keep heat close to the body while allowing blood to circulate freely.
- Drink non-caffeinated liquids to reduce the risk of dehydration.
OSHA Standards on Cold Stress
The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970, requires employers to furnish working environments ‘free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm’. Although OSHA does not specify regulations for cold stress, this clause mandates that employers understand cold stress injuries and illnesses and prevent these cold temperature dangers. Cold stress related injuries or illnesses must be documented and reported on the OSHA Form 300 log.
Be sure your workplace environment and employees are prepared for working in cold temperatures. Assess cold weather clothing prior to beginning tasks in cold temperatures. Regulate consistent breaks in warm temperatures throughout the work day. Encourage proper hydration. Preventing cold weather injuries in your workplace supports a strong and safe community.