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What you should know about cold stress in the workplace

Cold stress is a major concern in the spring, fall and winter or when people work in cold environments year-round. It's vital that employers take the risk of cold exposure seriously and help prevent workplace accidents resulting from exposure. How? By training employees to be safe in these environments.

How cold is too cold to work?

Extreme cold varies by location. For example, people used to 80-degree weather might think the 40s are extremely cold, whereas those used to living in 40-degree weather are more likely to find 0 degrees an uncomfortable temperature. Usually, extreme cold is referred to any time the weather is near freezing.

When it's this cold, it's hard for the body to maintain its temperature, which can result in a number of health conditions like frostbite or hypothermia. When wind is present or when it's wet, you're more likely to become colder faster.

Wind chill is something to consider at all times, especially when you work outside. For example, if it's only around 35 degrees outside, adding a 35-mph wind makes it feel like 21 degrees. That's a significant difference that you must account for.

What are some risk factors that workers face?

Any time there is wind, wind chill becomes a risk. If a person has certain health conditions, like diabetes or hypertension, then he or she may be more susceptible to the cold. Being out of shape also makes it harder for individuals to work in the cold.

It's wise to always have warm drinks, blankets and other gear around any time workers work in cold environments. Attempt to wear the correct boots and personal protective equipment designed for the temperatures in which you'll work. If you're injured because your employer does not allow this safety equipment or because you are forced to work too many hours in the cold, you may be able to seek workers' compensation.

Source: United States Department of Labor, "Cold Stress Guide," accessed Feb. 19, 2017

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