How to Protect Your Employees from Cold Stress


Close-up of a worker at the construction of an ice town for Christmas

Cold stress is one more reason to wear work uniforms. Freezing winter temperatures can endanger employees, especially those who work outdoors in places where there’s no shelter, or indoors but in unheated and/or poorly insulated areas. Those who work in refrigerated rooms or routinely handle cold objects and materials are also vulnerable. Here, we’ll explain the risks and provide some cold stress prevention tips to protect your workforce.

What Is Cold Stress?

Cold stress occurs when the body is exposed to extreme cold for an extended period of time. Heat is lost faster than normal, and it becomes more difficult to maintain a normal body temperature of 98.6℉. Cold air temperatures, cold water, increased wind speeds, and dampness can contribute to cold stress, leading to issues such as:

  • Hypothermia: An abnormally low body temperature of below 95℉, associated with symptoms like shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, confusion, and disorientation in its early stages. In late stage hypothermia, the person stops shivering, their skin turns blue, and their pupils dilate. Pulse and breathing rate slows and the person can lose consciousness.
  • Frostbite: An injury that most often affects the cheeks, nose, ears, chin, fingers, and toes and which may cause permanent damage. Severe cases of frostbite can require amputation. Symptoms include restricted blood flow to hands and feet, numbness, tingling, stinging, and aching or pale, bluish, or waxy skin.
  • Trench Foot: Also called immersion foot, this injury is caused by prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions in temperatures as high as 60℉. Wet feet can lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet.1 The body constricts blood circulation to reduce heat loss and, ultimately, oxygen-starved skin tissue starts to die. Early signs include tingling/itching, pain, swelling, numbness, and blotchy skin, as well as a heavy feeling in the affected foot.
  • Chilblains: Damage to capillaries under the skin, resulting in redness and itching. This typically affects the cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes, and it is permanent. The itching and redness will return if you continue to be exposed to cold. Chilblains can occur in temperatures just above the freezing mark to up to 60℉.

two industrial workers wearing reflective jackets, relaxing taking break from work

Anyone can experience cold stress. However, being unfit, having a chronic illness, taking drugs (including prescription medications), drinking alcohol, and not wearing the right clothing (such as outerwear uniforms) can make you more susceptible. So can exposure to tool vibration and not being used to working in cold conditions.

How to Prevent Cold Stress

Cold stress can lead to workplace injuries, time out of work, increased injury/insurance claims, and regulatory fines on your business. Fortunately, it can be prevented. These are some cold stress prevention tips to improve workplace safety:

Recognize the Conditions that Lead to Cold Stress

Familiarize yourself with the conditions and locations that make workers most vulnerable and monitor them accordingly. Supply workers with warm liquids to drink and designate a warm area for breaks. If an individual shows signs of cold stress, move them inside to a warm, safe place and have relief workers available to take their place on the job site.

Reschedule Activities that Involve Exposure to Extreme Cold

Assign higher-risk activities to the warmer hours of the day. Is particularly harsh weather predicted? Stay tuned to the forecast and work around cold snaps, snowy weather, or cold fronts. If your region is especially cold, put off maintenance and repair jobs until the warmer months.

Encourage Employees to Be Safe

To help your workforce be prepared and avoid trouble:

  • Provide frequent breaks and access to heated areas.
  • Have employees work in pairs and be on alert for symptoms.
  • Provide a first aid kit with a thermometer and chemical hot packs.
  • Reduce the demand for physical activity.
  • Train employees to recognize high-risk environments and signs of cold stress.

Provide Warm Workwear

solid lined team jacket

Layered clothing, especially that with wool, silk, or synthetic material with appropriate insulation and ventilation can prevent cold stress. Layering clothes provides better protection than one single warm garment, and it lets people add or remove layers to adapt to different needs throughout the day. This clothing should be loose fitting, as tight garments reduce blood circulation to the extremities.

Cold weather gear should include jackets, hats, socks, gloves, and blankets. Outerwear uniforms from Prudential Overall Supply are highly effective as well.

Order Work Jackets, Coverings, and Outerwear Today

Prudential Overall Supply offers insulated jackets, shop coats, construction work coats, coveralls, quilted vests, and long lab coats, among other protective outerwear for heavy-duty jobs. If your workforce is exposed to cold conditions in winter, these solutions can meet your dress code and help prevent cold stress. View our inventory and place your order today, or call 800-767-5536 for more information.