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Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry

Minnesota OSHA Compliance -- Cold stress

Graphic, snowflakeWhen the body is unable to warm itself, cold-related stress may result. This may include tissue damage and possibly death. Four factors contribute to cold stress:  cold air temperatures, high velocity air movement, dampness of the air and contact with cold water or surfaces. A cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its temperature.

Cold air, water and snow all draw heat from the body. Wind chill is the combination of air temperature and wind speed. For example, when the air temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) and the wind speed is 35 mph., exposed skin receives conditions equivalent to the air temperature being 11°F. While it is obvious that below-freezing conditions combined with inadequate clothing could bring about cold stress, it is important to understand it can also be brought about by temperatures in the 50s, coupled with rain and wind.

In cold environments, most of the body's energy is used to keep the internal temperature warm. Over time, the body will begin to shift blood flow from the extremities (hands, feet, arms and legs) and outer skin to the core (chest and abdomen), causing extremities to cool rapidly and increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia. When combined with cold water, trench foot may also be a problem.

The two most important methods of preventing cold stress are wearing appropriate clothing and being aware of how your body is reacting to the cold. Avoiding alcohol, certain medications and smoking can also help to minimize the risk.

Helpful resources from federal OSHA
Quick card:  Protecting workers from cold stress
Safe winter driving
Safety and health guides:  Cold stress
Hazard alert:  Falls and other hazards to workers removing snow from rooftops and other elevated surfaces
Tips to protect workers in cold environments
Winter weather:  Be prepared
Other helpful resources
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:  Extreme hot or cold temperature conditions
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):  Cold Stress

More information

Questions? Contact Minnesota OSHA at (651) 284-5050, 1-877-470-6742 or osha.compliance@state.mn.us.

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