Health Risks Of Working In The Cold

What Health Concerns Come With Cold Weather?

The following chart from Environment Canada describes the health concerns and potential for frostbite when being outside at various temperatures. These recommendations consider all individuals who may be outside, including young children and the elderly. These recommendations may not match exposure values developed by other organizations that have specifically made recommendations for working adults who are in great general health. You can counteract some of these effects by covering yourself as much as possible. Use a top rated cooling towel to cover your neck.

Health Effects Of The Cold

Cold temperatures have hazardous effects on humans and their ability to work well. When the body is exposed to cold temperatures, the negative effects can include dehydration, numbness, shivering, frostbite, immersion foot, and hypothermia.

These negative effects are experienced first by the peripheral parts of the body and gradually progress to deep body tissues and the body core. When the body’s core temperature drops below 95 F/35 C, it is defined as hypothermia, which along with frostbite is one of the more extreme dangers of prolonged work in cold environments.

Wind Chill Hazards and What To Do
Wind Chill Exposure Risk Health Concerns What to Do
0 to -9 Low risk
  • A slight increase in discomfort
  • Dress warmly
  • Stay dry
-10 to -27 Moderate risk
  • Uncomfortable
  • Risk of hypothermia and frostbite if outside for long periods without adequate protection.
  • Dress in layers of warm clothing, with an outer layer that is wind-resistant.
  • Wear a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, a scarf and insulated, waterproof footwear.
  • Stay dry.
  • Keep active
-28 to -39 High Risk: exposed skin can freeze in 10 to 30 minutes
  • High risk of frostnip frostbite: Check face and extremities for numbness or whiteness.
  • High risk of hypothermia if outside for long periods without adequate clothing or shelter from wind and cold.
  • Dress in layers of warm clothing, with an outer layer that is wind-resistant
  • Cover exposed skin
  • Wear a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, a scarf, neck tube or face mask and insulated, waterproof footwear
  • Stay dry
  • Keep active
-40 to -47 Very high risk: exposed skin can freeze in 5 to 10 minutes

(In sustained winds over 50 km/h, frostbite can occur faster than indicated.)

  • Very high risk of frostbite: Check face and extremities for numbness or whiteness.
  • Very high risk of hypothermia if outside for long periods without adequate clothing or shelter from wind and cold.
  • Dress in layers of warm clothing, with an outer layer that is wind-resistant.
  • Cover all exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, a scarf, neck tube or face mask and insulated, waterproof footwear.
  • Stay dry
  • Keep active.
-48 to -54 Severe risk: exposed skin can freeze in 2 to 5 minutes

(In sustained winds over 50 km/h, frostbite can occur faster than indicated.)

  • Severe risk of frostbite: Check face and extremities frequently for numbness or whiteness.
  • Severe risk of hypothermia if outside for long periods without adequate clothing or shelter from wind and cold.
  • Be careful. Dress very warmly in layers of clothing, with an outer layer that is wind-resistant.
  • Cover all exposed skin
  • Wear a hat, mittens or insulated gloves, a scarf, neck tube or face mask and insulated, waterproof footwear.
  • Be ready to cut short or cancel outdoor activities.
  • Stay dry.
  • Keep active.
-55 and colder Extreme risk: exposed skin can freeze in less than 2 minutes
  • DANGER! Outdoor conditions are hazardous.
  • Stay indoors.

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