Would you know what to do if a co-worker had frozen hands like these?
Step 1: Diagnose: Frozen, stiff and blackened fingers are a sure sign of frostbite.
Step 2: Treat: The best way to treat frostbite is to get the victim to a warm room and loosely cover the affected area until it warms up. Do NOT warm the affected area by rubbing it or directly exposing it to fire, a heat lamp or other heat source.
The Moral: There are different forms of cold stress and you need to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of each so you know how to properly treat it.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Being cold isn’t just uncomfortable; it can cause serious injury and, in extreme cases, even kill you. In the U.S., approximately 700 people die of cold-related injuries each year—that’s higher than the number of fatalities caused by floods and tornadoes. These cold-related injuries, which are known as “cold stress” can happen at work.
WHO’S AT RISK
You’re at risk of cold stress if you work outdoors, in/near/above water or inside freezers or refrigerated facilities, including:
HOW COLD STRESS HAPPENS
Normal body temperature is 98.6° F. Minor and short-term decreases in body temperature are uncomfortable but generally not dangerous; but when core body temperature drops below 95.0° F, the body has trouble circulating blood. Result: The body becomes susceptible to cold stress. The longer the exposure to sub-95.0° F temperatures, the greater the danger.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE & TREAT COLD STRESS
If you work in cold conditions, you and your co-workers may be at risk of 4 kinds of cold stress. Make sure you know the signs and symptoms of each one so you can recognize and properly treat the condition:
Freezing of the extremities (fingers, toes, nose, earlobes, etc.) caused by loss of blood flow, which can cause tissue damage and amputation
Frostbite Signs & Symptoms
Frostbite First Aid Treatment
2. Trench Foot (aka Immersion Foot)
Injury to the feet caused by prolonged exposure to cold and/or wet conditions which causes blood flow to the feet to shut down, potentially resulting in tissue damage and amputation
Trench Foot Signs & Symptoms
Trench Foot First Aid Treatment
Tissue damage, typically to the feet or hands that occurs when exposure to cold damages beds of capillary or small blood vessels in the skin
Chilblains Signs & Symptoms
Chilblains First Aid Treatment
The most dangerous form of cold stress that occurs when body temperature drops so low that the body can no longer replace lost body heat and uses up its stored energy. Possible result: Body systems and functions shut down and the victim essentially freezes to death
Hypothermia Signs & Symptoms
Hypothermia First Aid Treatment
The key to protecting yourself against cold stress is being aware of the danger and taking steps to keep your core body temperature at or above the critical 95.0° F threshold.
1. Be aware of and follow all safe work procedures
2. Wear at least 3 layers of protective clothing:
3. Wear a hat or hood to keep from escaping from your head
4. If necessary, wear a mask to protect your face and mouth
5. Wear insulated and water-proof gloves
6. Wear warm, insulated and, if necessary, water-proof boots or footwear
7. Take rest breaks to warm-up
8. Keep yourself hydrated by drinking water and warm beverages—but not alcohol
9. Keep an eye on your co-workers and how they’re faring in the cold
10. Make sure you know how to recognize and treat the 4 kinds of cold stress
FOR MORE HELP PROTECTING WORKERS AGAINST COLD STRESS
Go to the SafetySmart Compliance Heat & Cold Stress Compliance Center for more tools you can use to control cold stress hazards: