Cold Stress Toolbox Talk To Prevent Injuries (Cold Weather Dangers)

November 26, 2022
By N. Nicholas, ASP

Workers in cold environments can become prone to cold-related stress injuries. This risk is increased when workers are in extremely cold conditions for long periods.

Individuals like construction workers may sometimes be required to spend long periods in cold and even freezing weather.

Cold stress can be encountered in all these types of work environments.

What determines extreme cold can be different depending on where you’re located across the country. Areas that are not accustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures, are considered “extreme cold.”

This can occur when weather conditions drive down your skin temperature and core or internal body temperature.

When this occurs, serious health problems can occur and lead to tissue damage, possibly death.

Cold Stress Toolbox Talk Guidelines

Some risk factors that contribute to cold stress include:

  • Wearing damp clothing
  • Dressing improperly
  • Current health conditions such as hypertension and diabetes
  • Poor physical conditioning, and
  • The physical environment.


Wind chill can be described as the temperature you feel when wind and air temperatures are combined. When it becomes windy and temperatures drop below normal, the heat can leave your body rapidly if proper clothing is not worn.

For instance, when the air temperature is 40 degrees and the wind speed is 35 miles per hour, the air temperature can be approximately 28 degrees.

How your body reacts in cold weather conditions

In cold environments, the majority of the body’s energy is utilized to keep the internal core temperature warm.

When the body begins to warm the core, blood flows from the extremities- (your hands, feet, arms, and outer skin) and migrates to the core (chest and abdomen).

When this shift occurs, any exposed skin and extremities can begin to cool rapidly, increasing the risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and other serious health conditions.

When you combine this scenario with an individual working in a wet environment, like a trench, injuries such as “Immersion Foot” (Trench Foot) can occur.

Some common cold-related illnesses or injuries include.

Hypothermia occurs when an individual’s body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, and the average body temperature of 98.6°F drops below 95°F.

Hypothermia can occur in frigid environments but can also occur if an individual is submerged in icy cold water. It can be fatal if medical aid is not received immediately.

Common Symptoms of hypothermia include.

  • Shivering
  • As the body temperature falls, symptoms will worsen, and shivering stops.
  • Loss of coordination, confusion, and disorientation.
  • Unable to walk or stand
  • Dilated pupils
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Some first aid steps for individuals with hypothermia include.

  • Call 911 promptly for emergency or seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • If possible, move the individual to a warm and dry location.
  • Remove and replace any wet clothing with dry clothes.
  • Cover the individual’s body, including head and neck, with blankets and a vapor barrier.
  • Render first aid if you are trained to do so, and
  • Do not cover the face.


Frostbite is a cold stress-related injury that can occur when the skin and the underlying tissues freeze. This condition generally affects the extremities like the hands and feet.

When the cases are severe, amputation of the affected extremity may be required. Frostbite occurs more quickly in lower temperatures.

Some symptoms of frostbite include.

  • Skin becomes red and develops gray or white patches.
  • Numbness in the affected area.
  • The area feels firm or hard.
  • Blistering in severe cases.

Some first aid steps for treating frostbite include. Follow the recommendations described above for hypothermia.

  • Don’t t rub the affected area to warm it. Doing so can cause more damage.
  • Move the individuals to a warm location.
  • Seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Don’t allow the area to refreeze.
  • Do not apply water.
  • Don’t attempt to break or disturb blisters.
  • Loosely cover the affected area to prevent any contact.
  • Don’t attempt to warm the frostbitten area before getting medical help.

Trench Foot

Trench foot, or immersion foot, is caused due to prolonged exposure to wet and cold temperatures. This injury can occur even at temperatures as high as 60° if the feet remain wet constantly.

Some common symptoms of trench foot include.

  • Redness of the skin,
  • Swelling of the affected area
  • Numbness and blisters

First aid for an individual suffering from immersion or trench foot includes

  • Call 911 promptly for emergency or seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • Remove all wet items (shoes, boots, and wet socks).
  • Dry the individuals’ feet.


Chilblains are painful inflammation of small blood vessels in the skin that occur due to repeated exposure to cold but nonfreezing temperatures. These tiny blood vessels in the skin can become permanently damaged by cold temperatures, resulting in redness and itching during additional exposures.

Symptoms of chilblains include

  • Redness and itching of the affected area.
  • Possible blistering.
  • Inflammation, and possible ulceration in severe cases.

Preventing cold stress while working in cold environments is essential. Your employer should provide training on recognizing and preventing cold stress injuries and applying first aid treatment.

You should also be trained on the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) needed and safe work practices to reduce your risk of cold stress.

Cold Stress Toolbox Talk Tips To Prevent Injuries

  • Know and understand the symptoms associated with cold stress.
  • Stay dry in cold weather
  • Keep extra clothing, including underwear, handy if you need to change.
  • Drink warm sweetened fluids but
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Use proper controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment .
  • Dress appropriately for the cold.
  • Wear a hat or hood to keep your whole body warmer.
  • If possible, wear a knitted mask over your face and mouth in severe weather conditions.
  • Use insulated gloves to protect the hands, and
  • Wear insulated and waterproof boots to keep your feet warm

These tips can help prevent cold stress injuries when working in cold environments. Learn how Safelyio Toolbox Talk Software Program can help improve your safety program, contact us today.

See How Easy It Is To Automate Safety Talks Weeks & Months in Advance Saving Hours All While Boosting Safety

Lets show you how Safelyio can help.

More Safety Content