Cold Related Workplace Risks

Winter weather presents significant challenges and risks for outdoor workers, including cold stress, which can be life-threatening if not managed properly. Awareness, preparation, and monitoring are essential to ensure safety in cold conditions.

Understanding Cold Stress

Cold stress occurs when the body cannot maintain its normal temperature. It varies by region; temperatures near freezing can cause cold stress in areas unaccustomed to cold weather. High-risk factors include:

  • Wetness or dampness
  • Improper dressing
  • Pre-existing health conditions (hypertension, hypothyroidism, diabetes)
  • Poor physical conditioning

Monitoring Weather Conditions

  • NOAA Weather Radio: A key resource for continuous weather information. It alerts when wind chill conditions reach critical levels, issuing warnings for life-threatening wind chills and advisories for potentially hazardous conditions.
  • NWS Wind Chill Calculator: An online tool to calculate wind chill temperature based on air temperature and wind speed.

The Risk of Wind Chill

Wind increases the cold air’s impact, making it feel colder and heightening the risk of cold stress. Understanding the wind chill is crucial for workers exposed to winter weather.

Cold Stress Related Injuries

  1. Trench Foot: Caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions, even at temperatures up to 60˚F. Symptoms include reddening skin, tingling, swelling, numbness, and blisters.
  2. Frostbite: The freezing of skin and tissues, leading to permanent damage and potentially amputation. Symptoms include reddened skin with gray/white patches, tingling, aching, and blisters.
  3. Hypothermia: Occurs when body temperature drops below 95˚F. Symptoms include shivering, loss of coordination, confusion, slurred speech, slow breathing, unconsciousness, and possibly death.

Preventing Cold Stress Injuries

  • Appropriate Clothing: Wear at least three layers of loose-fitting clothing, including insulated gloves and boots. Cover your head with a hat that also covers the ears.
  • Material Choice: Opt for inner layers of wool, silk, or synthetic fibers, as they keep moisture away from the body and hold more heat than cotton.
  • Avoid Tight Clothing: It can restrict blood circulation.
  • Extra Clothes: Always have a change of clothes available in case of getting wet.
  • Warm Breaks: Take frequent breaks in warm, dry areas.
  • Hydration: Drink warm liquids to maintain body temperature.


Proper preparation and awareness are vital for outdoor work in winter. By understanding the risks, monitoring weather conditions, dressing appropriately, and being vigilant about health and safety practices, workers can significantly reduce the risk of cold stress-related injuries. For any questions or further guidance on cold stress prevention and OSHA compliance, contacting safety professionals like Lancaster Safety is recommended.

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