Factors When Working In Cold Weather

What Modifies Our Response To The Cold?

A cold environment challenges the worker in 3 ways: by air temperature, air velocity (wind speed), and humidity (wetness). In order to work safely, these challenges have to be counteracted by proper insulation (layered protective clothing), by physical activity, and by limited exposure to the cold (work/rest schedule). Wearing an extra layer of insulation on your neck such as one of the best cooling towels is also something you should be looking at.

If your job requires you to work outdoors in cold environments, you may be at the risk of cold stress. Cold stress can be seen in a number of different work environments if the proper steps are not taken to prevent its horrible effects. Read on to learn more about the dangers that different governing agencies warn workers about cold stress and how it can affect your health & safety, as well as steps you can take to prevent cold stress. Cold stress begins to occur when the skin temperature drops and the internal core body temperature begins to go below normal levels. Cold stress can lead to serious health problems, tissue damage, and even death in certain situations. 

Air Temperature

Air temperature is measured by an ordinary thermometer in degrees Celsius (°C) or degrees Fahrenheit (°F).

Physical Activity

The production of body heat by physical activity (metabolic rate) is difficult to measure. However, tables are available in the literature showing metabolic rates for a variety of activities. Metabolic heat production is measured in kilocalories (kcal) per hour. One kilocalorie is the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1°C.

Work/rest schedule

The “work warm-up schedule,” as developed by the Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety Division shows the warm-up breaks required for working in cold conditions and the normal breaks to be provided every two hours. The schedule allows additional breaks for workers as the wind velocity at the work site increases and/or the temperature drops.

Protective clothing

A lot of people ask themselves “What should I know about personal protective equipment (PPE) for working in the cold?” There are a lot of guides out there that outline the general minimum requirements for PPE at each temperature group. Read up on these guidelines to make sure that you’re properly protecting yourself from the cold.

Wind Speed

Different types of commercially-available anemometers are used to measure wind speed or air movement. These are calibrated in meters per second (m/s), kilometers per hour (km/h) or miles per hour (mph). Air movement is usually measured in m/s while wind speed is usually measured in km/h or mph. The following is a suggested guide for estimating wind speed if accurate information is not available:

  • 8 km/h (5 mph): light flag moves,
  • 16 km/h (10 mph): light flag fully extended,
  • 24 km/h (15 mph): raises newspaper sheet,
  • 32 km/h (20 mph): causes blowing and drifting snow.


Humidity or the wetness of air pertains to how much water the air holds at any given time. Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than dry air.

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