As the winter months begin to roll by, the temperature keeps getting colder. For those who work outdoors, the cold puts them at risk for cold-based injuries such as cold stress, especially if they are not used to it. When temperatures dip below 50°F, combined with high or cold wind, water, and even snow, the conditions are highly likely to contribute to cold stress. Being knowledgeable about these common cold stress injuries and how they develop may help in prevention.  

What is Cold Stress?

Cold stress occurs when your body is unable to warm its internal body temperature due to how cold your outside skin is. Cold stress usually comes about as wind speed increases, from wetness, poor physical condition, as well as certain health conditions (hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes). Cold stress leads to cold-related injuries and illnesses, such as those below.

Trench Foot

Trench foot is when your feet become injured due to the cold, but it does not freeze. It is caused when your foot is exposed to wet and cold conditions for a long period. Your wet feet lose heat 25x as fast as if they were dry. 

Symptoms include:

  • Redness of skin
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Leg cramps
  • Blisters
  • Bleeding under the skin 
  • Gangrene

If you experience trench foot, seek medical assistance as soon as possible. In the meantime, remove wet shoes and socks, keep your feet dry and warm, and elevate your feet to avoid walking on them.

Frostbite

Frostbite occurs when your skin and tissues freeze due to the cold. It can cause permanent damage, with the potential of amputation. People who are not dressed properly or have reduced blood pressure are at more risk of frostbite.

Affected areas include fingers, toes, nose, or ear lobes.

Symptoms include:

  • Reddened skin that has gray/white patches
  • Tingling and aching
  • Loss of feeling
  • Firm/hard
  • Blisters

If you experience frostbite, protect your frostbitten areas and try to avoid using your frostbitten body parts while moving to a warm room. Get medical help as soon as possible, and wait to let them warm it up because you might damage more skin and tissue. Drinking something warm and sweet may also help. 

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Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature is super low, usually 95°F or less. If your body just keeps getting colder and colder, it can’t warm up as fast, so to stay warm, your body uses its stored energy. Something that makes hypothermia extra dangerous is since low body temperature affects the brain, it is possible that a person may not know what is happening before it’s too late. 


Symptoms include:

  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Slow breathing and heart rate
  • Unconsciousness
  • Possibly death

If you experience hypothermia, get medical attention immediately. Move to a warm area and change clothes to something dry and warm. Wrap your entire body and head with blankets and a vapor barrier. Drink something sweet and warm to help increase body temperature quicker. Place heat warmers or warm bottles in your armpits, side of your chest, and groin area. 

Tips to Keep Employees Safe During the Winter

Train your employees

  • How to choose the proper clothing for different weather conditions
    • The type of fabric makes all the difference. Wool retains the most heat even when wet.
  • Recognize symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent it, and how to help those affected

Employers

  • Schedule cold jobs during warmer months, but if needed during colder months, schedule for warmer parts of the day
  • Mandatory breaks in warm places
  • Reduce physical demand for workers, as over-exertion in the cold puts more stress on your heart
  • Assign extra workers for longer or demanding jobs as well as pairs
    • The buddy system will ensure everybody is watched out for
  • Provide sweet warm drinks to workers (non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated)
    • Easy to become dehydrated in cooler weather
  • Monitor and check in on your workers

Worker’s Compensation Claim 

If you experienced a cold stress injury on the job, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation. This will protect you from the high costs that come from medical expenses, lost wages, as well as rehabilitation to return to work. Contact an experienced Long Beach workers compensation lawyer for a free case consultation.