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Out Cold

- November 11, 2019 by Leslie Stoll, CSP, ARM (View all posts by Leslie)

Each summer safety professionals place a lot of emphasis on the prevention and symptoms of heat exposure and heat related illnesses; however, the summer heat is not the only weather that can be a danger for workers.  With winter approaching, it is important to consider Cold Stress as well.

Cold Stress is defined as excessive heat loss due to cold temperatures, high/cold winds, and dampness. Cold Stress can exist due to exposure to weather, but may also exist in workplaces with cold environments such as jobs that include working in a refrigerated area for a prolonged amount of time. According to OSHA, in extreme cold the body uses up most of its energy trying to maintain internal temperatures. When unable to maintain body temperature, the body shifts blood flow from your extremities and outer skin to the core to protect internal organs. This causes exposed skin and extremities to cool rapidly. This attempt at self-preservation results in the different types of cold stress including hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.

So what can you do to prevent cold stress?

  • Use protective clothing like gloves, a hat or hood, and boots or other footwear.
  • Wear several layers of clothing and keep a change of dry clothes handy.
  • Wear loose clothing, with the exception of a wicking layer; this allows for better ventilation of heat.
  • If possible, use insulated material on equipment handles, especially metal handles.
  • It is easy to become dehydrated in cold weather so drink plenty of liquids, avoiding caffeine and alcohol. Warm, sugary drinks can also help maintain energy reserves and keep body heat up.
  • Take frequent breaks in warm sheltered areas where the wind is blocked and, depending on your work environment, where radiant heaters can be used.
  • Work in pairs and train employees to recognize the signs of cold stress.

Don’t forget about high viability protection. I often see safety vests covered up with warmer coats eliminating the protection it provides for preventing a struck by incident. It may be worth the extra money to invest in some high visibility jackets for your crews.

For more information on the prevention and treatment of cold stress, check out the OSHA Quick Card or visit OSHA’s website for safety guidelines on extreme cold.


United States Department of Labor. “Cold Stress.” OSHA.gov. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, nd. Web. 24 October 2013 https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/emergencypreparedness/guides/cold.html

United States Department of Labor. “Tips to Protect Workers in Cold Environments.” OSHA.gov. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, nd. Web. 24 October 2013 https://www.osha.gov/as/opa/cold_weather_prep.html

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