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The early days of winter teased us with milder weather, but alas, the cold has arrived! Still, the temperature doesn’t have to be freezing—and you don’t have to be outside very long—to be at risk for cold stress, particularly hypothermia and frostbite.  In fact, cold weather-related deaths in the U.S. are even more common than heat-related deaths.

Who is at risk for cold stress?

Anyone exposed to extremely cold environments is at risk for cold stress. But we should pay particular mind to workers who need to be outdoors as part of their jobs, such as snow cleanup crews, recreational workers, construction workers, postal workers, and police officers and firefighters, to name a few.

ColdWeatherWorker_Collage

The following increase a person’s risk for cold stress:

  • High winds
  • Inadequate clothing
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Dehydration or loss of body fluids
  • Diabetes
  • Circulatory problems
  • Certain other medical conditions
  • Alcohol or tobacco use

Can cold stress be prevented?

Yes! We can all take steps to prevent cold stress, with employers having a special responsibility to keep their workers safe.

When cold temperatures cannot be avoided, follow the recommendations below.

PLAN

  • Plan ahead so work is scheduled during warmer parts of the day.
  • Monitor cold advisories and calculate wind chills
  • Assign workers in pairs, so they can monitor each other for signs of cold stress.
  • Schedule relief workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Acclimatize new workers, and those returning after time away, by gradually increasing the workload and allowing more frequent breaks as they build up cold tolerance.
  • Have a plan for monitoring workers at risk for cold stress.

PROVIDE

  • Provide workers with appropriate clothing and equipment.
  • Provide work areas shielded from drafts or wind, when possible.
  • Provide radiant heaters to warm workers in unheated, enclosed areas.
  • Provide workers with frequent breaks in warm areas.
  • Provide water to keep workers hydrated.

TRAIN

  • Train workers annually on how to prevent, recognize, and treat cold-related injuries.
  • Train workers to stop work if they are extremely uncomfortable or are not feeling well due to the cold.

PRACTICE

  • Wear appropriate clothing, including layers; loose, flexible clothing; waterproof, insulated boots; and a hat.
  • Carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jacket, blankets, a change of clothes and a thermos of hot liquid.
  • Move into warmer locations during breaks.
  • Limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
  • Keep skin dry, as wet skin freezes quicker than dry skin.
  • Monitor the physical condition of self and of coworkers.
  • Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in the first aid kit.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed for warmer days ahead, but work as safely as possible no matter what the season brings.

Written By:


Occupational Fatality Projects Coordinator, Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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