Managing Cold Stress

Workers in the oil and gas and electric utility industries frequently face flash fire, arc flash and heat stress hazards. But one hazard that may not be as talked about is cold stress. Cold stress occurs when skin temperature drops, lowering internal body temperatures and disabling the body’s ability to warm itself. It can lead to several medical conditions, including trench foot, chilblains, frostbite and hypothermia.


Warning signs of cold stress:

• Shivering
• Teeth chattering
• Numbness
• Stiffness 
• Cold, stinging, aching
• Loss of coordination
• Dilated pupils
• Slurred speech
• Disorientation and confusion
• Unusual fatigue

According to OSHA General Duty Clause, the responsibility for worker safety is squarely on the employer. According to Section 5(a)(1):

Each employer (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.


Tips on how you can reduce cold stress for you and your team:

• Train workers on the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and work practices to reduce cold stress risk
• Implement safe work practices
• Help workers who are used to working in warm areas build up a tolerance for working in the cold environment
• Schedule maintenance and repair jobs for warmer months
• Schedule cold-weather jobs for the warmer parts of the day
• Reduce the physical demands of workers
• Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs
• Provide workers with warm liquids
• Provide workers with warm areas during peak cold periods
• Include a thermometer and chemical hot packs in first aid kits
• Train workers to avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin
• Monitor workers’ physical condition and have them monitor their coworkers

Another great method to keep workers safe from potential cold stress is to utilize a layering system. A layering system allows workers the flexibility to remain more comfortable and safer in a variety of conditions. As long as the layers are compliant to the assessed hazard and are layered correctly according to industry regulations. Try Bulwark Protection’s Arc Rating Calculator to see how your layers add up. 


Here are a few critical considerations when layering FR/AR garments:

• Always layer FR/AR garments underneath FR/AR outerwear
• The arc rating of the outermost FR/AR layer must be sufficient to prevent break open and ignition of any flammable base layer
• Non-FR/AR outerwear should never be worn over FR/AR garments

Cold stress shouldn’t be a risk you and your team overlook. That’s why it’s not only important to incorporate a comprehensive layered PPE program, but to be aware of the warning signs of cold stress and how you can reduce the risk.