Winter ProtectionPersonal ProtectionProtective Clothing

How to Recognize and Treat Cold Stress?

5 Mins read
What is Cold Stress


Incidents of employees passing out at work, and is some dire cases passing away have not been unheard of. This is largely due to hazardous and challenging work conditions, including cold stress. Since exposure to cold stress can lead to several health hazards, it is the responsibility of the employers to educate the workers about how to stay safe in cold environments. Employers should also offer appropriate protective clothing to enable the employees to seamlessly work without suffering any ill effects of the cold environments.

What is Cold Stress?

The definition of cold stress can vary from one part of the nation to another. For instance, in states where winters are not extreme, near-freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. On the other hand, in regions which do experience very cold winters temperatures below 0°F would be considered as cold environment forces.

In addition to dip in atmospheric temperatures, increased wind speed is also considered a cause for cold stress. This is known as the wind chill effect. Similarly, wetness or dampness other factors that many contribute to cold stress as it causes a dip in the core temperature of the body.

Simply put, any event or factor that cools the body in a way that it can no longer maintain core temperature, is considered as a factor for cold stress. If the body remains under cold stress for too long, and is unable to warm itself, it may result in the severe cold-related illnesses and injuries. This may cause skin tissue freeze, permanent tissue damage and in grave cases death.

Review OSHA’s Cold Stress Safety and Health Guide to better understand cold stress and its impact on the health of the sufferer.

Prevention of Cold Stress

As per the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) of 1970, it is the duty of the employers to protect the employees from any and all recognized hazards, including cold stress hazards.

Employers should train workers on how to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may lead to cold stress as well as educate their employees regarding the symptoms of cold stress, preventive measures for cold stress, and tips and tricks to help those around them. In addition, selection of appropriate clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions, must also be made known to the employees.

It is also crucial that the employers –

  • Monitor worker’s physical condition.
  • Schedule frequent short breaks in warm dry areas, to allow the body to warm up.
  • Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
  • Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
  • Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.
  • Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters.
  • Provide personal protective equipment designed to maintain body heat during cold weather

Types of Cold Stress

Trench Foot

Also known as Immersion, Trench foot is usually caused as a result of prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. In this case, more than the cold temperature it is the constant wetness that results in this non-freezing injury.

Some of the most common symptoms of Trench Foot include reddening skin, tingling, pain, swelling, leg cramps, numbness, and blisters.

Suggested Measures

It is advisable to remove the wet shoes and socks immediately, and dry the feet. The feet of the affected person must be kept elevated, and they must avoid walking. Immediate medical attention is required in all cases.



Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissues. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body, and in severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Some of the most common symptoms of Frostbite include – reddened skin with gray/white patches in the fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes; tingling, aching, a loss of feeling, firm/hard, and blisters.

Suggested Measures

Firstly, Call 911. Next, take the worker to a warm, dry area and remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing.

Then, make sure that the affected area is loosely wrapped in a dry cloth such that it doesn’t come in contact with the outside environment until help arrives. In case the sufferer is alert, they should be given warm sweetened drinks.

DO NOT rub the affected area.

DO NOT break the blisters.

DO NOT apply snow or water

DO NOT use heating pads or warm water.



Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature (98.6°F) drops to less than 95°F. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or immersion in cold water.

Uncontrollable shivering is one of the mild, yet confirmation symptoms of hypothermia. Moderate to severe symptoms of hypothermia include loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, heart rate/breathing slow, unconsciousness and possibly death.

Since a vast majority of body heat is lost, the brain is adversely affected. This imapirs the victim’s ability to think, act or even move properly, putting them at greater danger, as they are unable to take any measures to save themselves.

Suggested Measures

Firstly, Call 911. Next, take the worker to a warm, dry area and remove any wet clothing and replace with dry clothing.

Then, make sure that the entire body, including the head and neck are covered in layers of blanket, complete with a vapor barrier such as a tarp or a garbage bag. DO NOT cover the face. It is also advisable to place warm bottles or hot packs in armpits, sides of chest, and groin.

In case the sufferer is alert, they should be given warm sweetened drinks.

If medical help is taking time, or is unavailable, co-workers trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may come to help by offering CPR and checking the pulse after every 60 seconds. Trained workers may start rescue breaths for 3 minutes, or until help arrives.

Warm Up Schedule for Preventing Cold Stress

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Last Thoughts on Cold Stress

Working in tough conditions is never easy, especially if the work requires you to spend long hours in those conditions and do hard physical labor. This is where being prepared for possible cold stress comes in handy. Whether it is about creating the right working environment, providing proper equipment, or educating the workers about cold environment and protection against its ill effects – it is important to be ready in case an emergency presents itself.

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