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KU-EHS December Safety Tip: Working Safely in Cold Weather

Monday, December 7, 2015

Regardless of the nature of your work, you’ve probably all experienced what it’s like to be outside in cold temperatures. With winter on its way, today we’re going to talk about how to stay safe in chilly conditions.

1. What is cold stress?

  • Cold stress occurs when the body is unable to warm itself, resulting in possible tissue damage or even death.
  • Four factors contribute to cold stress: 1) air temperature, 2) wind speed, 3) the dampness of the air and 4) contact with cold water or surfaces.

2. What’s the difference between frostbite and hypothermia?

  • Frostbite: This condition occurs when the skin loses water and begins to freeze. Frostbite usually affects the extremities, particularly the hands and feet, which may begin to sting or burn. Eventually, blisters may develop. In severe cases, amputation is necessary to remove dead tissue.
  • What should you do for frostbite? Gently warm affected areas and seek medical attention, if necessary.
  • Hypothermia: This condition occurs when the body can’t keep up with the rate of heat lost and a person’s core temperature begins to fall dramatically. As body temperature drops, symptoms will quickly become apparent. Shivering may be followed by confusion or a slurring of one’s words.
  • What should you do if you suspect hypothermia? Seek immediate medical attention. Hypothermia is considered a medical emergency.

3. How can we protect ourselves in cold conditions?

  • Plan ahead. If you know you will be working in a freezer or refrigerated area, take the necessary steps to avoid cold stress. Likewise, if you know you will be spending a considerable amount of time outdoors in cold temperatures, be prepared.
  • Wear the appropriate protective clothing. Specifically, choose fabrics that retain heat, such as wool and most synthetics. And always wear a hat or hood.
  • Dress in layers. Consider an inner layer to wick moisture away from the body, a middle layer to provide insulation and an outer layer to fend off wind and rain, if necessary.

Wear footwear that is both insulated and waterproof.


Shoveling Safely


To shovel, keep your back straight and bend from the knees, not from the waist. As you lift, hold the snow shovel as close to your body as possible. If you have to turn, step in the direction of the turn.

  • Warmer muscles work better. Techniques are important when shoveling snow. Be sure to take time to stretch your muscles in preparation for activity. Other recommended steps to help prevent low back injuries while shoveling snow:
  • Grip the shovel with space between your hands. This will allow more leverage and make snow lifting easier.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart to maintain balance and keep the shovel close to your body.
  • Place the leading foot close to the shovel with the weight on the leading foot.
  • Bend at the knees, lift with your legs, and remember never to lift or bend at the waist or back.
  • Keep your back straight and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the snow. Do not twist your body. Dump the snow in front of you, not over your shoulder, to prevent shoulder injury.

More Information

OSHA Quick Card: Protecting Workers from Cold Stress 


Report A Safety Concern

Report a concern to KU-EHS

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