Cold Stress

Cold Stress

Cold stress sneaks up on workers and puts them at risk. Hear about the four main cold stresses in this podcast.

Exposure to the cold can bring on frostbite, chilblains, trench foot and hypothermia. Dan Clark gives the symptoms and treatment for all four of these cold stresses.

Dan also gives tips on how employers, through simple planning, can make sure employees avoid the cold stresses in the first place.


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Dan Clark: Cold stress comes from working in the cold. When it’s really cold, like when somebody accidentally pours hot coffee on your hands and you say “thank you.”

Hey there, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.

Three combined factors put workers at risk in the cold:

1. Temperature.

2. Wind speed.

3. Wetness and humidity.

Cold Stress is the term doctors and safety people use for this group of illnesses caused by exposure to cold temperatures. The four primary cold stresses are frostbite, chilblains, trench foot and hypothermia.

1. FROSTBITE. Parts of the body actually freeze, generally impacting toes, fingers, cheeks, noses, chins and ears.

The symptoms are: Numbness, tingling, pain and pale skin.

The treatment: Warm the body part with warm water, or use your own body heat. But don’t massage the area. Don’t use a heating pad or anything that could cause a burn. If feet are impacted, don’t walk on them.

2. CHILBLAINS. This is where capillaries in the extremities are damaged because of prolonged exposure to cold.

The symptoms: Inflammation, itching, redness and blistering.

The treatment: Slowly warm the skin. See a doctor for topical medications— something you rub on the skin.

3. TRENCH FOOT. This is caused by having cold and wet feet for a long time.

The symptoms: Pain, cramps, numbness in the feet and legs, blisters, reddening of the skin and even bleeding under the skin.

The treatment: Dry the feet as soon as possible, then use waterproof footwear and moisture wicking socks.

4. HYPOTHERMIA. This is serious. It’s when your body temperature gets too low. It’s caused by extended time in the cold.

Symptoms at the beginning include: Shivering, confusion, fatigue and loss of coordination.

Symptoms later include: Dilated pupils, slowed pulse, loose skin and no longer shivering.

The treatment: Move the person to a warm location. Remove any wet clothing and heat the body from the center with blankets. Drinking warm fluids can help, but no alcohol or caffeine.

IMMERSION HYPOTHERMIA is a type of hypothermia that happens when someone is in the water. It comes on very quickly because water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than the air.

Employer Tips:

Make sure workers know the signs and symptoms of these four cold stresses.

Use a buddy system to have people look out for each other.

When they begin work, allow employees to acclimate to the cold.

Provide warm areas for breaks.

Schedule outdoor work for the warmest part of the day, if you can.

That’s all for this episode on Cold Stress. Come back for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, a service of Creative Safety Supply.


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