Every winter, OSHA issues warnings about the dangers of cold stress, a condition caused by extended exposure to a combination of low temperatures, strong wind, and dampness/wetness.
Cold stress can take a variety of forms, but is usually characterized by shivering, tingling or loss of feeling in the extremities, loss of coordination, and confusion or disorientation. Depending on the length of exposure and severity of symptoms, cold stress can result in hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.
If you work outdoors, you can help prevent cold stress by taking proper precautions, including the following:
- Check the day’s weather report before leaving home so you can have the latest information regarding temperature, wind chill, and projected storms.
- Dress appropriately for the conditions you expect to face. Layering is always recommended in winter, and can be supplemented with battery heated clothing for additional warmth or waterproof gear to protect against snow and rain.
- Take special care of your extremities with the help of battery heated gloves and heated socks to prevent frostbite.
- Sip on warm, caffeine-free beverages or soups to maintain body temperature and energy levels.
- Take frequent breaks indoors or in a sheltered area to give your body a chance to warm up and/or dry off.
- Work in pairs whenever possible. If working alone, be sure to let someone know where you are and check in at regular intervals via cell phone or walkie-talkie to confirm your safety and well-being.
- Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of hypothermia, frostbite, and general cold stress so you can recognize them when they begin to occur.
- Know the treatment protocols for dealing with affected individuals while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive on the scene.
Whether plowing snow, working on a road crew, or repairing electrical lines, any kind of job that takes you outdoors in winter has the potential to result in cold stress. Stay safe by dressing for the weather, using battery heated apparel to protect your core and extremities, and employing the above tips where applicable.