Cold Stress

After the hot weather we have experienced this summer, it seems odd to be talking about cold stress. Yet, cold weather is often unpredictable and extreme, so it’s wise to prepare now.

Freezing temperatures can create serious health problems, collectively called cold stress.

Cold Stress Factors

  • Freezing or near-freezing weather
  • Strong winds
  • Being wet
  • Working for long periods in extreme cold
  • Working in poorly insulated or poorly heated areas
  • Being unaccustomed to freezing weather

Preventive Measures

  • Monitor yourself and your coworkers for signs of cold stress.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, such as waterproofed and insulated boots, hats, and multiple layers of loose clothing. Particularly protect all extremities.
  • Always carry cold weather gear, such as extra socks, gloves, hats, jackets, blankets, water, food, and a thermos of hot liquid.
  • Carry a change of clothes and use them if clothes get wet.
  • Limit the amount of time spent in cold, wet environments. Move into warm, dry locations during breaks.
  • Do not touch cold metal surfaces with bare skin.     

Cold Stress Conditions


  • Description: A medical emergency in which the body cannot warm itself
  • Causes: Lengthy exposure to freezing weather
  • Symptoms: Shivering at the onset or not later, fatigue, confusion, disorientation, blue skin, dilated pupils, slowed pulse and breathing, or loss of consciousness
  • First aid: Remove wet clothes, keep the victim warm and dry with blankets, and give the victim warm drinks (if conscious). Monitor consciousness and get medical help.


  • Description: Damage to body tissue, mostly in the extremities
  • Causes: Lengthy exposure to freezing weather
  • Symptoms: Skin that is aching, tingling, stinging, bluish, pale, or waxy
  • First aid: Immerse the skin in warm but not hot water or, if that is not possible, warm very gently with body heat, without rubbing or pressure. Get medical help

Trench foot:

  • Description: Dying skin because the body has cut off circulation to the feet
  • Causes: Lengthy exposure of feet to wet conditions (with temperatures up to 60°F)
  • Symptoms: Leg cramps or redness, numbness, swelling, bruising, blisters, ulcers, or gangrene on feet
  • First aid: Dry feet and do not walk on them. Seek medical help


  • Description: Damage to capillary beds in the skin
  • Causes: Repeated, prolonged exposure to temperatures between freezing and 60°F
  • Symptoms: Redness, inflammation, itching, blistering, ulceration
  • First aid: Slowly warm the skin, do not scratch, use an anti-itch cream, and cover blisters and ulcers.

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