Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cold Weather Work Safety

Up until recently, winter has been unseasonably warm here in Minnesota (not that I’m complaining). That being said, temperatures have now been in the low teens, and we’re in for even colder weather.

We Minnesotans think of ourselves as a hardy breed of people who are able to tolerate the cold, but even the hardiest among us still need to take measures to stay warm and safe during cold winter weather. Minnesota workers who have to work outside in these temperatures should be mindful of the hazards of cold weather work, and they should be aware of ways to keep themselves safe and healthy when working outdoors.

Cold stress can occur when the body is unable to warm itself, and it can lead to tissue damage and possibly even death. Factors that contribute to cold stress include: 1) cold air temperatures, 2) high velocity air movement, 3) dampness of the air, and 4) contact with cold water or surfaces. A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature. Below-freezing temperatures can cause cold stress, but even higher temperatures, combined with wind or moisture, can cause cold stress. The most common injuries and illnesses that occur due to cold stress are hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot.


Hypothermia occurs when body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced. Symptoms begin with shivering and feet stomping in an attempt to generate heat. Workers may begin to lose coordination, experience slurred speech, and fumble with hand tools. Skin becomes cold and pale. As body temperature drops, symptoms will worsen and shivering stops. If body temperature drops below 85°F, severe hypothermia will develop, and the person may lose consciousness. At 78°F, death can occur. Medical treatment depends on the severity of the hypothermia.


Frostbite occurs when the skin freezes and loses water. Frostbite usually affects the extremities, including fingers, toes, and hands and feet. Exposed areas of the face can also be affected. The affected body part will be cold, tingling, stinging, or aching, followed by numbness. The skin turns red in color, then purple, then white, and is cold to the touch. In severe cases, blisters may develop. Amputation may be required in cases of severe frostbite.

Trench Foot 

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused when feet are immersed in cold water at cold temperatures for long periods of time. It is similar to frostbite, but usually less severe. Symptoms include tingling, itching or burning.

Minnesota workers exposed to cold weather should take the following precautions to avoid illness or injury:
  • Wear at least three layers of clothing. Wear an outer layer, such as Gortex, to break the wind. Wear a middle layer of down or wool to absorb sweat and provide insulation. Wear an inner layer of cotton or synthetic weave to allow ventilation. 
  • Wear a hat. Significant amounts of heat escape from the head. 
  • Keep an extra change of clothing. If work clothes become wet, change into dry clothes. 
  • Wear loose clothing. Loose clothing allows better ventilation than tight clothing. 
  • Don’t over-do it. Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Work during warmer parts of the day if possible. Take frequent breaks out of the cold. Work in pairs. Avoid fatigue. Eat warm, high calorie food. 
Cold injuries that require medical attention are covered under Minnesota workers’ compensation. If you’ve sustained a cold injury that resulted in medical attention, you may be eligible for medical expense benefits. If you miss work as a result of a cold injury, you may be entitled to wage loss benefits. If you sustain a permanent injury as a result of cold exposure, you may be eligible for permanent partial disability benefits. If you can no longer do your regular job as the result of a cold injury or illness, you may be eligible for rehabilitation and/or retraining benefits.

If you’ve sustained an on-the-job cold injury in Minnesota, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. For a free, no-obligation workers’ compensation case consultation, call at Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680 or click here to send us an email.


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