What is Cold Stress and How to Prevent it in Your Workplace

As much as we have wanted to resist it, the colder, windier, and wetter weather has started to rear its frosty head. And for certain occupations, that means that cold stress is becoming more of a workplace safety hazard.

What is Cold Stress?

Cold stress happens when the skin temperature and eventually the body’s internal temperature are driven down and the body becomes unable to warm itself. This can lead to serious cold-related injuries and illnesses. Although we typically think of cold stress as being related to freezing temperatures, it is important to understand that it can occur even in low but above freezing temperatures when coupled with wind or rain.

Types of Cold Stress

Trench Foot

This is a non-freezing condition that affects the feet when they are exposed to wet and cold conditions for an extended period of time. Symptoms of trench foot include reddened skin, pain or tingling, numbness, leg cramps, swelling and blisters.

First Aid for Trench Foot:

  • Remove wet socks and shoes/boots.
  • Keep feet dry and elevated.
  • Avoid walking.
  • Seek medical attention.


This occurs when the skin and tissues freeze. Frostbite can be extremely serious and lead to permanent injuries and in severe cases require amputation. Frostbite occurs most often in the extremities including fingers, toes, face, and ears.

First Aid for Frostbite:

  • Protect the area that has been frostbitten (e.g. wrap a loose, dry cloth around the area until you can get medical assistance.)
  • Do NOT rub the frostbitten area.
  • Do NOT attempt to re-warm the frostbitten area before medical help arrives.


This is a serious condition when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees F or 35 degrees C. It occurs most often in freezing temperatures but it can also happen in temperatures above 40 degrees F or 4 degrees C if the person has also been exposed to cold water, rain, or sweat. Those with mild hypothermia are alert but shivering. In more severe cases, shivering stops and the person may exhibit confusion, slurred speech or loss of consciousness.

First Aid for Hypothermia:

  • Call 911
  • Prevent further heat loss by moving person to a warmer place, changing them into dry clothes, or covering their body with something to block the cold such as a blanket, tarp, or garbage bag.
  • If it will take more than 30 minutes to get medical help, give the person warm, sweetened drinks (non-alcoholic) and apply heat packs to neck, armpits, and groin.

How to Prevent Cold Stress in Your Workplace

Preventing cold stress in the workplace starts with planning. Workers need to prepare for the cold weather by ensuring that they are wearing proper clothing. Wool is a good choice for working in the cold because it retains its heat even if it becomes wet. Cotton on the other hand will draw heat from the body when it becomes wet.

Educating your employees about the importance of proper protective clothing for cold weather is the first step toward keeping them safe when they are working in the cold.

Other Workplace Practices to Prevent Cold Stress

  • Stay hydrated. Although it may not feel like it, it can be easy to get dehydrated in the colder weather. Drinking plenty of liquids help to prevent this but you should avoid alcohol and too much caffeine.
  • Work schedule – As much as possible, schedule work for the warmest parts of the day. Ensure that workers can take breaks outside of the cold.
  • Use a buddy system – teach your employees the symptoms of cold stress and employ a buddy system so that workers can look out for each other. Victims of hypothermia in particular often do not recognize the symptoms in themselves.

Contact TeksMed today

Extreme weather conditions, both hot and cold, are a common source of workplace injuries and illness. If you need assistance managing these or any other kinds of occupational disability, contact TeksMed today to speak with a member of our team.

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