November 13, 2017

Working in cold weather can be brutal. Sure, the dangers are the same as they were when you were a kid building a snow fort, but as an adult, working in extreme conditions for long periods of time can have more severe short- and long-term effects. Since your mom isn’t there to tell you what to wear and when to come inside, we thought we’d clue you in on some practical information to help you understand, avoid, and treat cold stress on the job.


First, it’s important to understand there are many variables to the susceptibility of cold stress. Your physical body composition, metabolism, level of activity, amount of sleep, what you’ve eaten or drank, and, of course, what you’re wearing can determine the level of danger you could be putting yourself into while working in cold weather. 

Understanding these hazards and their treatments is the first step to protecting yourself. 


The Hazards and Treatments:


Range of motion is affected in cold weather by blood pumping away from limbs to increase the temperature of the torso. This can also hinder flexibility and agility in hands and feet, which limits a worker’s ability to grip or carry objects or move away from dangerous situations.

This is just the beginning of the dangers of cold stress.


Frostbite can occur at or below 32°F (0°C). At this temperature, blood vessels close to the skin start to constrict, reducing blood flow to your extremities to dangerously low levels. This lack of blood leads to the eventual freezing and death of skin tissue in the affected areas. For early signs of frostbite, skin will appear white or red and can feel hard or stiff (not ideal for working safely).

  • Treatment for frostbite should include moving into a warm area as soon as possible. Immerse the affected area in mildly warm water. Avoid rubbing or massaging the area or using any type of heating elements (such as a heating pad), as this could cause more damage to the affected area. The key is to slowly bring the temperature of the affected area to normal body temperature (about 98.2°F or 37°C).


Hypothermia is a condition in which core temperature drops below the required temperature for normal metabolism and body functions. Symptoms of hypothermia vary depending on the level of hypothermia. The four levels of hypothermia are mild, moderate, severe and critical.

The first sign is severe shivering, followed by drowsiness. Irritability, confusion, and loss of coordination are more severe signs; with slurred speech, unconsciousness and heart failure being the most severe dangers of hypothermia. Being mindful of these symptoms can be critical.

  • Treatment of mild hypothermia should start by moving the victim to a warm, dry area. Remove any wet clothing, replace with warm, dry clothes and wrap in blankets. Have them drink something warm and sweet. Avoid suppressing shivering, massaging the extremities, or placing in a warm bath or shower.

    If the hypothermia is more moderate to severe (core body temperature below 91.4 degrees), call 911 immediately. Be sure to handle the victim gently, check for airway obstructions, and perform CPR if no pulse present after one-minute assessment. If CPR is necessary, assist breathing at 10 to 12 breaths per minute. Do not start cardiac massage unless it can be continued effectively without a break. It is more dangerous to start, stop, and re-start CPR rather than to wait until proper care is available.

    If pulse and breathing are stabilized, gently remove wet clothing and replace with dry, layered blankets. Ensure head is covered and there is something warm and dry beneath the victim. Avoid suppressing shivering, giving anything by mouth, massaging the victim, or immersing in warm water. Even if the victim appears lifeless, continue first aid treatment. The body can sometimes survive for hours without signs of life at very low body temperatures.


Trench foot occurs when feet are cold and damp while wearing constricting footwear. Unlike frostbite, trench foot does not require freezing temperatures and can occur at temperatures up to 60° Fahrenheit. This condition can occur with as little as thirteen hours’ exposure. Symptoms of trench foot include tingling, itching, burning pain and swelling of the feet. More advanced cases can also include blisters and infection. We need our feet to survive – be cautious!

  • To treat trench foot, move the victim to a warm area, soak feet in warm water and wrap with a dry towel.

We know that none of these sound fun, and trust us, they aren't. If you must work in cold environments, be sure you know the signs of cold stress – and prepare before you go by wearing the proper clothing and PPE.

Have questions about what cold weather PPE may be right for you? Reach out to one of our Safety Solutions Specialists at 1.877.MY ARMOR or Stay safe out there!