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KU-EHS November Safety Tip: Cold Conditions Safety

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

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.

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