If your job requires you to work outdoors in cold environments, you may be at the risk of cold stress. Cold stress can be encountered in a number of different work environments if the proper steps are not taken to prevent it. Read on to learn more about the dangers OSHA warns workers about cold stress and how it can affect your health & safety, as well as steps you can take to prevent cold stress.
Is it Too Cold?
Weather described as “Extreme Cold” can vary across different areas of the country. But in every case, even areas exposed to cold weather for most of the year, workers must take the proper steps to acclimate and combat the cold. Cold temperatures forces the body to work harder to keep itself warm. When wind is thrown into the mix, Wind Chill is another factor workers must take into consideration while working in cold environments. Wind Chill is a combination of air temperature and wind speed, if the air temperature is 40°F and the wind speed is 35 mph, the exposed skin on your body will feel the effects as if the temperature was 28°F.
Cold stress begins to occur when the skin temperature drops and the internal core body temperature begins to go below normal levels. Cold stress can lead to serious health problem, tissue damage, and even death in certain situations. When your body is exposed to cold environments, the body will begin to shift blood flow from the extremities (hands, feet, arms & legs) and the outer skin to the core (chest & abdomen). Once this shifts begins to occur, the exposed skin and extremities will begin to cool rapidly and increase the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. If you work in wet environments, trench foot is a possible looming problem you will have to look out for.
Risk Factors Contributing to Cold Stress According to OSHA
- Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly, and exhaustion
- Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes
- Poor physical conditioning
Most Common Cold Induced Illnesses & Injuries
Hypothermia – When the normal body temperature 98.6°F, drops below 95°F and body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced. Typically hypothermia occurs in Extreme Cold temperatures, but hypothermia can also occur at cool temperatures (above 40°F) when a person is chilled from rain, sweat, or submerged in cold water.
Frostbite – As the temperature drops, frostbite can occur and cause an injury to the body that is caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Frostbite is most likely to affect the exterminates, particularly feet & hands. In severe cases, amputation my be required.
Trench Foot – As referred to as immersion foot, is caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet environments. Trench foot can occur in both cool and cold conditions. Non-freezing injuries can occur at temperatures as high as 60°F because wet feet lose heat 25X faster than dry feet. The body tries to prevent heat loss by constricting the blood vessels, shutting down circulation to the feet. When this happens, skin tissue begins to die due to the lack of oxygen & nutrients and the buildup of toxic products.
Combating Cold Stress
Check back soon for our next blog post about the proper steps to combat cold stress while working in cold environments.