Managing Cold Stress with the Proper PPE


Managing Cold Stress with the Proper PPE

No matter the type of work, any worker exposed to cold temperatures faces risks.

As the seasons turnover to the colder months, safety managers transition their mindset from managing heat stress for their workers to the opposite phenomenon—cold stress. Cold stress refers to environmental conditions (such as air temperature, windchill temperature and rain) in which body heat is lost faster than the body can produce it. Low temperatures and high wind speeds that are common during the winter months are a dangerous combination. These weather conditions expedite the rate at which heat leaves the body, increasing the risk of cold stress for outdoor workers.  

Workers who may be affected by cold stress are wide ranging, from those on construction sites to oil and gas operators performing maintenance work. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), extreme cold weather is a dangerous situation that can bring on health emergencies. And what is considered cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country, making it critical for employers to recognize their employees’ working environments. For example, in parts of the country relatively unfamiliar to cold winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. No matter the type of work, any worker exposed to cold temperatures faces risks. Two of the most common kinds of cold stress include hypothermia and frostbite.  

The National Weather Service states that hypothermia is the most common cause of winter weather fatalities and occurs when body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In 2019, about 1,300 people in the U.S. died of hypothermia. Symptoms of hypothermia include severe shivering, confusion, slurred speech, slow heart rate or slow breathing and loss of consciousness.  

This article originally appeared in the October 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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