Cold Related Illnesses You Need To Watch Out For At Work

Categories: Safety TipsPublished On: February 28, 2024

Cold Related Illnesses in Canada

When it comes to keeping workers safe, it’s vital to recognize the risk posed by cold-related illnesses. As temperatures drop, the risks associated with cold stress illnesses, including hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains, become more prominent.

Cold stress is the effect of prolonged exposure to colder conditions, leading to a decline in body temperature and functionality. Recognizing the signs and understanding preventive measures are essential to ensure the well-being of employees working in cold environments.


The most severe cold injury is hypothermia, which occurs from excessive loss of body heat and the lowering of the body’s internal temperature. This cold related illness typically occurs when the core body temperature drops below 35-36 degrees Celsius. A drop of only 2 degrees in your core temperature can cause hypothermia. Risk factors that can lead to this condition include prolonged exposure to cold, wet conditions and inadequate clothing. If not treated promptly and correctly, severe hypothermia can be fatal.

Symptoms to watch out for include shivering, pale skin, slurred speech, a weak pulse, confusion, and lethargy. It’s important to note that hypothermia can occur gradually, and individuals may not always recognize the severity of their condition.

In some cases, they may even exhibit paradoxical undressing, where they remove clothing because they feel warm despite the cold due to confusion and impaired judgment. To combat hypothermia at work, employers need to educate workers about proper attire and the importance of staying dry, as well as provide frequent breaks in dry areas.


Understanding frostbite and its stages is vital in preventing irreversible tissue damage. The early signs to watch out for include numbness and tingling, which can progress to skin discoloration and blistering in severe cases. The three stages of frostbite are as follows:

  • Frostnip: This is the mildest form of frostbite and often precedes more severe stages. It involves freezing of the top layers of skin, leading to numbness and a tingling sensation. Frostnip is a mild form of frostbite that does not cause permanent damage. It is a warning sign that indicates prolonged exposure to cold.
  • Superficial Frostbite: In this stage, ice crystals form within skin cells, causing ice burn. Symptoms include skin that appears pale, waxy, or grayish-yellow. The affected areas may feel hard and cold to the touch. There is a risk of blistering as the tissue thaws.
  • Deep Frostbite: The most severe stage involves the freezing of deeper tissues, including muscles, tendons, and blood vessels. The affected areas may turn blue or purple and become completely numb. Severe pain can occur during rewarming, and the risk of permanent damage, including gangrene, can increase.

Immediate treatment involves gradual rewarming, avoiding direct heat, and seeking medical attention. Proper insulation, protective gear, and regular breaks in heated vehicles or heated areas can significantly reduce the risk of frostbite in the workplace.

Trench Foot

Trench foot, a condition resulting from prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions, can cause severe discomfort and long-term damage if left untreated. Symptoms of trench foot include both swelling and numbness of the foot. To prevent this type of illness, keep your feet dry, wear insulated footwear, and take regular breaks to warm up. Employee education on proper foot care is fundamental to avoiding trench foot in the workplace.


Chilblains, a painful inflammatory skin condition caused by exposure to cold and humidity, can be debilitating if overlooked. This illness is a painful, itchy swelling on the skin, typically on the hand or foot, caused by poor circulation in the skin when exposed to cold. To prevent chilblains, employees should be encouraged to keep their extremities warm, use protective clothing, and gradually warm up when exposed to cold conditions. Promoting good circulation and maintaining a comfortable working environment are essential strategies.

Prioritizing Worker Safety in Cold Environments

In conclusion, prioritizing worker safety in cold environments is a shared responsibility that requires proactive measures. Educating employees on the risks and symptoms of cold related illnesses like hypothermia, frostbite, trench foot, and chilblains is necessary. Implementing preventive strategies, providing adequate protective gear, and promoting a culture of awareness will not only safeguard employee health but also contribute to a more productive and secure work environment.