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Cold Stress: How People Who Work Outside Handle the Cold

Many jobs require workers to be exposed to cold weather. These include your local postman, couriers, utility repairmen, construction, sanitation and road repair. 

Employers of these workers are required to limit exposure to cold when temperatures are in the extreme. Freezing temperatures can cause death and injury from over-exposure.

The Issue of Cold Stress


While tolerance to extreme cold may be higher among residents who live in areas of the country where temperatures and wind chill are the norm, other workers who live in warmer temperatures find themselves physically unable to adapt to sudden freezes.

Cold stress occurs when extreme temperatures drive down temperatures of human skin, followed by lowering of internal body temperatures. Several types of cold stress include:

 

  • Frost bite
  • Hypothermia
  • Trench foot

 

Under the OSHA Act of 1970, employers are responsible to protect workers from hazards, including cold stress. Employers should provide adequate training to people who work outside in the cold. This helps them identify the nature of cold stress and symptoms and how to choose protective clothing. 

Employers can also do several things to protect their workers. These include:

  • Schedule work, where possible, for warmer temperatures
  • Avoid workers becoming wet or damp
  • Provide heaters in work areas
  • Allow frequent breaks to a warm, dry area
  • Offer warm, sweetened beverages
  • Schedule work in pairs as part of the buddy system

 

Identifying Types of Cold Stress by Symptoms


People who work outside in the cold should be aware that their feet may be the first area of the body to be affected by cold stress. This is referred to as "Trench Foot." It can occur in temperatures of 60 degrees when feet are wet. 

Frostbite occurs when skin freezes and blood circulation is reduced below the norm. It causes permanent damage. The first signs of frostbite are reddened skin that develops into gray/white patches usually in the hands and fingers first, but also in nose, ear lobes and toes. This is accompanied by tingling, loss of feeling, aches, skin that becomes hard or firm or blisters form in the affected areas. 

Hypothermia affects the entire body when body temperature drops below 95 degrees. However, hypothermia can also occur in temperatures above 40 degrees if the individual is immersed in water, perspires or becomes cold from wet weather. 

The first sign of hypothermia begins when the individual shivers uncontrollably. This is an indication the individual's body has begun to lose body heat. 

How People Who Work Outside Handle the Cold


How workers who perform the duties of their jobs outdoor handle the cold depends on how much prior training they have had. Employers should offer OSHA 10 online training to all workers, including those whose jobs require only minimal exposure to cold. 

Online OSHA 10 hour training courses helps educate workers to protect themselves from cold stress. These training programs are found at 360training.com and are intended for general industry. A broad range of OSHA policies applicable to employers and workers is included in course objectives.

 

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