Cold Stress Toolbox Talk

Learn about the different types of cold stress (including trench foot, hypothermia, and frost bite) and how to prepare for working in cold weather on the construction site.

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Cold Stress & Cold Weather Safety Talk

When you have a job that you are doing that requires you to be outside in cold weather, there are many hazardous situations that can occur. High on that list is cold stress, which is a condition that occurs when the body can no longer maintain its normal temperature. The type of cold stress and its effects varies depending on where you live and the type of weather your region receives. When left untreated, cold stress can result in injuries leading to permanent tissue damage or even death. Appropriate clothing should always be worn in cold weather conditions to protect employees from cold stress.

Types of Cold Stress

When exposed to cold termperatures without proper clothing protection, a number of serious cold-related illnesses may occur. Read below for some common types of cold stress, their symptoms, prevention, and treatment.

1. Trench Foot

Some areas that people work in experience cold, snowy, wet winters. Trench foot is a condition that occurs when someone who is working outside, is constantly exposed to wet conditions, leaving their feet wet. In some instances, trench foot can even happen to individuals who are subject to damp areas for a long time in up to 60-degree weather.

Your head and your feet are two areas of your body that heat can escape quickly, 25 times faster than the rest of your body. When your body can not control the body temperature due to the cold on the feet, it will begin to shut down. Blood flow is no longer pumping like it should, creating a lack of oxygen. If you suspect this is happening, you should quickly get the damp shoes and socks off your feet, and dry them thoroughly. Keep them elevated and try to not put any weight on them.

2. Hypothermia

When you are outside in the cold weather for prolonged amounts of time, your body is using up stored energy to stay warm. After a certain amount of time, hypothermia will begin to set in, you will lose functions to your limbs, and be unable to focus.

If you begin to experience the symptoms of hypothermia, seek medical attention quickly. If you are unable to do so yourself, have someone contact a supervisor immediately. The steps to remember when warming up someone who has hypothermia are:

Warm the chest first, then the neck, head, and groin with an electric blanket. You can use the skin to skin tactics along with blankets or whatever you have available if you do not have use of electric blankets. If the employee loses consciousness and isn’t breathing, call 911immediatley, and start CPR until emergency professionals can get there.

3. Frostbite

If you are working in an area that is particularly cold, it is important to take the necessary precautions to keep yourself warm. If you do not frostbite can occur. This is when an area of your body gets so cold, that it loses circulation. The most common areas to be affected are:

  • Ears
  • Chin
  • Cheeks
  • Fingertips
  • Toes
  • Nose
  • The symptoms are loss of feeling and color to the affected area. You should seek medical attention immediately as you can do permanent damage or even need an amputation. The process of trying to warm the areas up may cause some discomfort and stinging. They will try to warm up the affected area of your body with warm water.

    Cold Weather Safety Tips

    When working in a cold weather environment or winter weather conditions, there are potential risks for cold stress and certain protocols you should always follow fully. These rules and regulations are set in place to protect you and keep you safe. Some safe work practices for preventning cold stress in cold weather environments include:

  • When you are on the job, try to keep a thermos of warm beverages with you. By doing this, it is going to warm your internal temperature. Helping to keep you warm and unharmed.
  • Working with a group, you all should pay close attention to each other. You are a team when you are together. If you notice signs or symptoms of harm or trouble in someone, help them out. Get them to a warm area and contact your supervisor for further direction.
  • Schedule breaks in a warm area throughout your shift outside. This will help you to avoid getting overly cold for a prolonged amount of time. Helping your body temperature to regulate and keep circulation moving.
  • It is important to make sure you have the appropriate type of clothing for the job. Layer your clothing to keep you nice and warm. Also, do your best to wear protection that is going to help keep you dry, and if you can’t, have a backup that you can change into if you get wet.
  • Hypothermia and Frostbite Explained

    Both hypothermia and frostbite are types of cold stress that can lead to very serious problems. It is very important that you take the proper precautions to protect yourself when your work requires you to be in the cold weather for prolonged amounts of time. Here is a clear definition of both terms:

    Hypothermia Definition

    Hypothermia is when your internal body temperature drops extremely low, too low to keep your body alive. The body temperature of a hypothermic patient is 95 degrees or lower. That may not seem like a huge drop to you from a normal range of 95 degrees, but it most definitely is.

    Frostbite Definition

    When areas of your body get extremely cold, frostbite can set in. You will begin to notice when areas are getting too cold, there is a burning sensation that will begin to happen. It will be red in color and begin to lose feeling. You should always make sure your skin is covered as best as possible to prevent it.

    Side Effects

    There are many serious side effects of these two illnesses. Hypothermia is life-threatening, as your body can not function at that low of a temperature. Frostbite can do permanent damage or it can lead to amputation of the affected area if it is not warmed soon enough.

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