Cold stress occurs when the body is unable to warm itself resulting to serious cold-related illnesses, permanent tissue damage and death may result.
Factors which contribute to cold stress include:
- Naturally or artificially cooled environments.
- Wind, which pulls heat away from the body in any environment.
- Wet clothing, from sweat or water
- Cold water immersion, which cools the body 25 times faster than cold air.
- Fatigue, which makes it harder for the body to create heat.
Some individual factors contribute to higher risk for cold stress as well:
- Not being physically fit
- Having an underlying condition or illness.
- Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Working in wet or damp conditions
- Exposure to vibration from tools
- Working without proper personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Not acclimated to the cold
Cold environment forces the body to work harder to maintain its core temperature.
Read Also: Heat stress – Symptoms and prevention
Types of cold stress
- Frostbite: Frostbite occurs when layers of skin tissue freeze. It is caused by exposure to extreme cold and typically affects the extremities, particularly the face, ears, fingers and toes. Symptoms include – Cold, tingling, stinging or aching feeling in the frostbitten area, numbness, change in skin colour (Could be red, purple or pale), Hard or blistering skin in severe cases.
- Immersion/Trench Foot: Trench foot or immersion foot is caused by having feet immersed in cold water for long periods of time. It is similar to frostbite, but considered less severe. Symptoms include – Tingling, itching or burning sensation, Blisters, etc.
- Hypothermia: This is low temperature State. It occurs when the rate of heat lost is higher than the rate of heat gain. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, lack of coordination, memory loss, pale & cold skin, severe muscle stiffness, extremely cold skin,
irregular or difficult to find pulse.
- Chillblains: It is described as the repeated exposure of skin to temperatures just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold exposure causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. Symptoms include – Redness, Itching, Possible blistering, Inflammation, ulceration in severe cases, etc.
- Cold Urticaria: Young adults are most likely to have this condition. It happens when skin reacts to cold and breaks out in welts. The areas are reddish and itchy, like hives. Hands may get puffy while holding a cold drink, throat and lips might swell when eating or drinking something frosty.
Read Also: Heat exhaustion recovery time
How to prevent cold stress
Employers should train workers. Training should include:
– How to recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that can lead to cold stress.
– The symptoms of cold stress, how to prevent cold stress, and what to do to help those who are affected.
– How to select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions.
Employers should: Monitor workers physical condition.
– Schedule frequent short breaks in warm dry areas, to allow the body to warm up.
– Schedule work during the warmest part of the day.
– Use the buddy system (work in pairs).
– Provide warm, sweet beverages. Avoid drinks with alcohol.
– Provide engineering controls such as radiant heaters.
Read Also: Drug and Alcohol Testing
For further reading
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