2017 is off to a cold start! While arctic temperatures continue to blow across the United States, we’re doing our best to stay bundled up indoors. But for those of us who are working in cold, icy or snowy conditions this winter, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of cold stress.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), cold stress occurs at low temperatures and when wind speed increases—making it easier for heat to be rapidly lost from the body. It can also occur in regions where individuals are unaccustomed to severe winter weather, such as southern states that have more moderate climates, like Arkansas or Texas. Without protection, cold stress can cause severe workplace injuries and illnesses including:

•Chilblains: Chilblains is a condition where small blood vessels in the skin become inflamed, which is caused by repeated exposure to cold temperature. Symptoms may include redness, itching, blistering and skin ulcers. 

•Frostbite: Frostbite is the loss of feeling and color, most commonly in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. It can cause permanent damage and, in severe cases, tissue loss or amputation. Symptoms may include redness; pain; white, gray-ish yellow, firm or waxy skin; and numbness.  

•Hypothermia: Defined as an “abnormally low body temperature” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hypothermia occurs when an individual’s body uses all of its stored energy and is no longer able to produce heat. Early stages, it may cause symptoms such as shivering, exhaustion, confusion and loss of coordination or memory. In later stages, symptoms may include blue skin, dilated pupils, a slowed pulse or breathing and the loss of consciousness.

•Trench foot: Also known as “immersion foot,” trench foot occurs when a foot is wet for a long period of time. It may cause tingling, itching, numbness, a prickly or heavy feeling, pain, inflammation and cold or blotchy skin. If left untreated, trench foot may also cause the skin to die and begin to fall off.

Want to learn how to prevent these injuries and illnesses? Stay tuned for Part II of our cold stress series on Inside CTEH.