Cold Stress Prevention – When Bitter Cold Takes Over in the Southeast 

By Rachel Morgan, MPH, ASP
EHS Specialist at Palmetto EHS, LLC

An Arctic chill has taken over the United States and Winter Storm Grayson is making its way up the East coast, potentially bringing snow to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. This, along with the bitter cold wind chills, puts outdoor workers at risk for cold stress.

Three of the more common injuries and illness cause by the cold include hypothermia, frostbite, and trench foot. In hypothermia, internal body temperatures drop, which causes confusion, slowed pulse/breathing, dilated pupils, loss of consciousness, and even death in severe cases. Frostbite generally occurs in the hands and feet, and is caused by the skin and tissues freezing. It’s important to remember that rubbing an area affected by frostbite can cause more damage and should never be done. Trench foot occurs when the feet are wet and cold for a long period of time which causes the blood vessels to constrict in the feet, effectively shutting down the circulation of blood in them.

Employers can help protect workers from cold stress injuries and illnesses by doing a few different things, such as training and educating workers, as employees need to know the signs and symptoms of injuries and illnesses related to cold stress. Many employees in the southeast and deep south don’t deal with these extreme weather conditions on a regular basis, therefore a refresher on the symptoms, treatments, engineering and work practice controls in place, and PPE to be used are necessary. On a related note, employers need to have engineering controls available for workers and to have thought about what work practice controls are applicable and available for their employees.

One way for employers to get thinking about cold stress and how they are going to help protect their workers from the injuries and illnesses associate with the cold, is to develop and implement a written cold stress prevention program. If you are in need of one and would like us to develop one for you, or any other written programs, contact us.

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