WORKING IN COLD WEATHER

Working in the cold winter weather can be like working in the extreme heat:

  • You must be prepared for it.
  • You must be equipped for it.
  • You must get acclimated to it.

Employees who work in the cold weather during the winter months can be at risk of cold stress and injuries. It’s important to recognize cold weather hazards and potential for injury.

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING WHEN WORKING OUTSIDE DURING THE WINTER MONTHS:

  • Workers taking certain medications, who are in poor physical condition or suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease may be at increased risk during cold weather exposure.
  • Dress in layers that can be added and removed as you get warmer or colder. Sweating from too many layers can cause clothing to become wet. Overdressing can also restrict your movement and increase the potential of an accident.
  • Wear synthetic or cotton clothing next to the skin to wick away sweat.
  • Hands and head should always be covered to minimize heat loss.
  • Take frequent breaks in a warm, dry area to limit the effects of exposure to cold temperatures.

MEDICAL CONDITIONS RESULTING FROM PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO COLD TEMPERATURES:

  • Trench foot is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. To prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.
  • Hypothermia is a severe condition when the body is unable to produce enough heat to counter the heat that it is losing. If your body loses heat more quickly than it can make it, your core temperature will fall. As it falls, the body shifts blood away from the skin to reduce the amount of heat that escapes.
  • Frostbite is characterized by reddened skin with gray and white patches, skin and limb numbness, firm skin and limbs and, in severe cases, blisters.

If employees show signs of cold-related stress or injuries, it’s important to get them warm and dry immediately.

Download a printable PDF and recording form here.

Members can download the audio version of this toolbox talk soon.

Cold Weather Hazards

First published on 01/13/2016

Several potential hazards exist when winter temperatures fall below zero. This Toolbox Talk addresses three of them.

Frostbite is damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. It can cause loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It can affect any part of the body; however, the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are most likely to be affected. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased when individuals do not dress appropriately for the weather conditions.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness; tingling or stinging; aching; and bluish, pail or waxy skin. If you think you are suffering from frostbite, get into a warm location as soon as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet. This increases the damage. Warm the affected area using body heat. For example, place a frostbitten hand under your arm. Do not rub or massage the affected area, because doing so can cause more damage to the skin. Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit if the feet are constantly wet. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms of trench foot include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain and bleeding under the skin. If you are suffering from trench foot, you should remove shoes/boots and wet socks, dry your feet and avoid walking, as this may cause tissue damage.

Chilblains are caused when the skin is repeatedly exposed to temperatures ranging from just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent, and the redness and itching (typically on cheeks, ears, fingers and toes) will return with additional exposure.

Symptoms of chilblains include redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation and possible ulceration in severe cases. If you have chilblains you should avoid scratching, slowly warm the skin, use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling and keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered.

Download the recording form here.