What is cold stress to those of you working in cold environments
Cold stress is any circumstance in which the body is under-equipped to cope with cold.
One of the most common causes of cold stress, especially during the winter months, is working outdoors. Cold stress can be brought on by high winds or by heavy layers of clothing that prevent heat from escaping the body. While it might seem logical for people who work outdoors to dress in many layers, this is often a bad idea. In the long term, people who dress for cold weather tend to experience less cold stress than those who wear just a few layers of very heavy clothing that locks in heat around the body.
Where can cold stress become an issue?
If you work outside during the winter months, here are some tips on how to avoid the effects of cold stress. Dress for the weather no matter how many layers you wear. Wear high-quality boots that are rated for the kind of weather you're experiencing rather than lighter shoes or sneakers. Don't underestimate wind chill or think that it is less extreme at higher altitudes -- both are major contributors to cold stress. Make sure you stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet. If you work outside for a long time, take a rest break every 20-30 minutes -- this goes for everyone who works outdoors regardless of the weather.
Cold stress can happen if the body loses heat faster than it produces heat. This might happen because cold air keeps removing heat from deep within your body or because you wear too many clothes that prevent heat from escaping. Cold stress can also happen if your body produces lots of heat, but you do not sweat at all or sweat very little. It's best to dress lightly in layers so that the clothing shell allows for some ventilation of excess heat and moisture while still protecting your skin from cold air.
What are the stages of cold stress?
The stages of cold stress are the same across all areas of the body. The first stage is the cold-in phase. If you are suddenly exposed to a much lower temperature, your body will start to adjust immediately. This causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as well as other metabolic changes, but these changes can sometimes be prevented if you slowly acclimate yourself to the cold. The second stage is the cold-out phase, with an opposite set of effects than the first stage. If you are exposed to warmth again after being exposed to a very cold environment, your body will start releasing heat. This can lead to profuse sweating or chills, depending on whether or not you are wearing cold-weather clothing. The third stage of cold stress is cold tolerance. If you are exposed to cold weather regularly, your body will start to adapt and acclimate itself. This might change the color of your skin to blue or red, depending on what happens to be most adaptive for you.
How does the body respond to cold stress?
The body's response to cold stress is somewhat similar across all areas. There are three major responses that the body has when exposed to cold; vasoconstriction, shivering, and non-shivering thermogenesis (NST).
Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of blood vessels near the skin to reduce blood flow. This reduces heat loss but also causes the skin to become pale and take on a bluish or reddish hue. This is a response that can be reversed with renewed exposure to warmth.
Shivering occurs when muscles in the body contract quickly in unison to produce heat from muscle contraction. This is especially important for generating heat in the deep muscles of the limbs, abdomen, chest, neck and head.
NST is a process where the body converts white fat into brown fat to produce heat. The NST response can last up to six hours for infants and two hours for adults after cold stress has ended.
How should workers reduce the risk of cold stress?
Workers should reduce the risk of cold stress by dressing in layers, wearing synthetic clothing next to the skin, wearing appropriate boots for the weather conditions at hand, and staying hydrated. If you are working outside for a long time or are not used to being out in the cold, make sure to take regular breaks every 20-30 minutes. These breaks are important even if you are working in a cold environment for the first time.
Be sure not to underestimate wind chill or think that it is less extreme at higher altitudes -- both are major contributors to cold stress. Make sure you stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet. If you work outside for a long time, take a rest break every 45 minutes or so and make sure that you get enough sleep (at least seven hours per night, if possible).
The best option is to gradually transition yourself into colder environments. This can include wearing multiple layers of clothing over time instead of putting on a heavy coat the day you need it most. Be mindful about how your body feels and take breaks if you start to shiver or feel otherwise uncomfortable.
How does working in the cold affect you?
Working in the cold can affect you in a variety of ways. If you work outdoors, dress in layers and take regular breaks every 30 minutes or so to warm up your body and get moving again. Make sure that you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. Try to maintain a balanced diet with plenty of nutrients, but don't eat too much sugar -- this can lower your body's resistance to cold stress.
The biggest risk is hypothermia (when the body's core temperature drops below 95 degrees F), which can lead to loss of consciousness or even death if not treated immediately. Frostbite is another common risk of cold stress, which occurs when blood vessels become so constricted that the tissue they supply is damaged due to loss of oxygen or freezing temperatures. Symptoms typically involve a loss of feeling in the affected area and sometimes numbness and pain.
How cold is too cold for working conditions?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the limit of cold-related injuries and illnesses at work as any temperature below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above 80 degrees. It is important to note, however, that these limits are not related to comfort but rather to safety issues such as frostbite and hypothermia.
Workers should be aware of their local temperatures and take appropriate precautionary steps.
How can employers and employees prevent cold-related injuries?
Employers and employees should prevent cold-related injuries by working together to develop a written safety plan that includes:
Work in pairs to check on each other and keep one another safe.
Monitor the outside temperature and take appropriate precautions, such as dressing in layers, wearing waterproof clothing and gear to protect against wind and rain and staying hydrated.
Use tools such as thermal mapping and weather reports to monitor the weather and prepare for changes that may require additional safety measures.
Keep a pair of dry, warm socks in the office and encourage employees to change their socks regularly to prevent hypothermia or frostbite if they must be outside for long periods.