Cold Stress – Oklahoma Style
Vol.5 Issue 1
Cold Stress Prevention

Cold stress is when the body’s skin temperature is driven down, to the point of lowering the body’s internal temperature. When this happens, the body is unable to warm itself and serious cold-related illnesses or injuries may occur. This phenomenon can happen in temperatures below 60ºF, especially when other conditions such as wind and moisture are factors. This means that working outside in Oklahoma during the winter months could put you at risk. Prevention is the key! Most of the hazards of our jobs can be prevented and cold stress is no exception. Here are a few key factors to prevent cold stress:

  • The type of fabric you wear makes a difference. Cotton loses its insulation value when it becomes wet. Wool, silk and most synthetics, on the other hand, retain their insulation even when wet.

  • Wear at least three layers of loose fitting clothing. Layering provides better insulation. Do not wear tight fitting clothing.

  • Wear an inner layer of wool, silk, or synthetic to keep moisture away from the body.

  • Wear a middle layer of wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet.

  • Consider wearing an outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.

  • Stay dry in the cold (avoid moisture or dampness), e.g. Sweating can increase the rate of heat loss from the body.

  • Keep extra clothing (including underwear) handy in case you get wet and need to change.

  • Wear a hat or hood to help keep your whole body warmer. Hats reduce the amount of body heat that escapes from your head.

  • Use a knit mask to cover the face and mouth (if needed).

  • Use insulated gloves to protect the hands (water resistant if necessary).

  • Wear insulated and waterproof boots (or other footwear).

Most of us that have worked outside during cold weather have experienced some of the early signs and symptoms of cold stress:

  • Redness of skin – frostbite could develop presenting gray/white patches on your skin

  • Numbness in the affected part (usually extremities: ears, nose, fingers, toes)

  • Affected area feels firm or hard

  • In severe cases, blisters may occur in the affected part

  • If you begin to shiver, stomp your feet in order to generate heat

  • As the body’s temperature continues to fall, symptoms will worsen and shivering will stop [this is your internal alarm]

  • It is not uncommon to lose coordination and fumble with items in your hands, as well as becoming somewhat confused and disoriented

Such cold weather emergencies of cold stress include hypothermia, frostbite and trench foot. Now that you know what to look for, what should you do if you or a co-worker experiences any of these symptoms?

  • Immediately take a break and get into a warm vehicle or workplace.

  • Contact your supervisor immediately.

  • Drink warm sweetened fluids (no alcohol).

  • Remove your shoes, boots, and wet socks, or any other clothing that is wet.

  • Dry your feet or affected area.

  • Loosely cover and protect the area from contact.

  • Do not rub the affected area to warm it because this action can cause more damage to frozen cells.

  • Do not apply snow or warm water to your skin. Do not break any blisters.

  • Call the Aeronautical Center’s emergency phone number (954-3444) immediately; otherwise seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

The National Weather Service has a Wind Chill Calculator tool. Wind chill is the combination of air temperature and air movement. The higher the wind speeds, the lower the temperature, the greater the chance for bodily danger. Whether at home or at work, be weather aware and take the appropriate precautions to protect your body. Pay attention to your physical condition and of those around you. When cold weather hits, stay safe, use these safety precautions against cold stress to help keep you safe, healthy and warm.

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