When you work or spend time in extreme cold, most of your body’s energy is used to maintain a consistent inner temperature. The human body’s ability to adapt has limits.
Cold stress occurs by driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the internal body temperature.
When the body is unable to warm itself, serious cold-related illnesses and injuries may occur, with the worst-case scenario resulting in permanent tissue damage or death.
Early warning signs
Warning signs of cold stress include:
- feeling cold and shivering
- loss of feeling or tingling in fingers and toes
- trouble moving fingers, hands, and toes (trouble doing tasks)
- frostnip (outermost layers of skin turn white)
- “unusual –umbles”, such as stumbles, mumbles, fumbles, and grumbles
- extreme shivering, and then shivering stops
- impaired coordination
- frostbite (skin freezes deeply, turning blue or red)
- loss of consciousness
How to stay warm
Alberta’s website has some tips and tricks to keep warm when either working or playing this holiday season.
- wear layered and insulating clothing
- cover exposed skin
- stay in the sun
- take breaks inside
- keep footwear dry
- keep moving to generate body heat (but avoid sweating)
What employers can do
When working in cold temperatures you should expect the following:
- on-site heaters or heated shelter
- work/warm-up schedule
- a flexible pace where workers can take extra breaks if needed
- shield workers from drafts or winds as much as possible
- a buddy system so no one works alone
- adjustment periods before assigning a full work schedule
- do hazard assessment, put controls in place for protection and educate workers on the hazards of working in the cold