Fort Riley, Kansas



SAFETY CORNER - Staying safe at work during cold weather

By Dawn J. Douglas | GARRISON SAFETY OFFICE | January 29, 2018

     Winter is upon us, but that doesn’t stop the work, especially for those who work outdoors and have to brave extreme cold temperatures. Although the work must be done, limiting personnel exposure to cold can go a long way toward preventing cold stress injuries and illnesses such as frostbite, hypothermia, trench foot and chilblains.

      There are three major factors to keep in mind when working outdoors: air temperature, wind and moisture. Environmental cold can affect any worker exposed to cold air temperatures and puts workers at risk of cold stress. As wind speed increases, it causes the cold air temperature to feel even colder, increasing the risk of cold stress to exposed workers such as recreational workers, snow cleanup crews, construction workers, police officers and firefighters. Other workers who may be affected by exposure to environmental cold conditions include those in transit, baggage handlers, water transportation, landscaping services and support activities for oil and gas operations.


                Wetness/dampness, dressing improperly and exhaustion

                Predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism and diabetes

                Poor physical conditioning



      What constitutes cold stress and its effects can vary across different areas of the country. In regions that are not used to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered factors for cold stress. Increased wind speed also causes heat to leave the body more rapidly. Wetness or dampness, even from body sweat, also facilitates heat loss from the body. Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature. When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur and permanent tissue damage and death could result. Types of cold stress include: trench foot, frostbite and hypothermia.

      Team Riley, did you know under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to protect workers from recognized hazards, including cold stress hazards, that can cause death or serious physical harm in the work place?


                Employers should train coworkers on how to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that can lead to cold stress.

                The symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent cold stress and what to do to help those who are affected.

                How to select proper clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions.



                Monitor workers physical condition.

                Schedule frequent short breaks in warm dry areas, to allow the body to warm up.

                Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.

                Use the buddy system — work in pairs.

                Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.

                Provide engineering controls such as a radiant heater.



      Trench foot is a non-freezing injury of the feet caused by prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur in temperatures as high as 60 F if feet are constantly wet. Injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet.

      Frostbite is caused by the freezing of the skin and tissues. Frostbite can cause permanent damage to the body and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

      Hypothermia occurs when the normal body temperature drops to less than 95 F. Exposure to cold temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up the body’s stored energy. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures — above 40 F — if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or immersion in cold water.

      The National Weather Service provides a Wind Chill Calculation that allows users to input the air temperature and wind speed and it will calculate the wind chill temperature. The site is also a resource for preparing for extreme cold weather.

      Even if you don’t think you will be outdoors for very long, always dress for the outdoors. Adding layers of clothes will keep you warm as the temperature drops and you can remove layers when you go into warmer environmental conditions. When the weather is cold you need at least two to three layers of clothes, a warm hat, gloves, an outer layer such as a jacket, layers to protect your legs and waterproof boots to prevent wet feet.

      One final reason to bundle up in the cold weather is a study that shows when there is less absolute humidity in the air, it is easier for the flu virus to survive and spread. This means it’s more likely you can catch the flu virus and get sick.

     With this in mind, it is extra important to wash your hands after you cough or sneeze around this time of year to avoid spreading the flu. Taking precautions in the cold weather to prevent cold stress illnesses and injuries and potentially the flu will allow you and your workers to stay productive even in the winter months.

      For more information, contact the Garrison Safety Office at 785-240-0647.


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