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Cold Stress – Winter Preparation

Cold Stress and Winter Preparation
With contribution from the City of Kansas City, MO
Corporate Safety & Risk Management General Services Dept.

The season for cold weather is upon us, and in many cases severely cold weather. On any given winter’s day, you can observe people wearing a variety of garments in all colors, shapes and sizes in an effort to protect themselves from the elements. At the same time, you’ll find others in their short sleeves who, when asked about their attire, will say, “Oh, it’s no big deal; I just have to run from my car to the office (store, library, school, etc.).”

It is, however, a very big deal. It can be very dangerous to take the cold lightly. For those who make their living working outside, disregarding cold weather conditions can have drastic consequences.

The city of Kansas City, MO Corporate Safety & Risk Management Department was kind enough to share the following statistics and contribute safety points to help prepare you for a safe and successful winter.

The Facts:
Winter storms are considered deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. People die in traffic accidents on icy roads and from hypothermia due to prolonged exposure to cold. According to the National Weather Service, 70 percent of these deaths occur in automobile accidents. In addition, 25 percent are people caught out in the storm. Men account for a majority of fatalities.

Cold Weather Disorders which Require Immediate Medical Attention:

Frostbite – Frostbite is a condition that occurs when the skin freezes and loses moisture. A loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in the extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the nose are symptoms of frostbite. Smokers and people who have diabetes should be especially careful, as they have an increased risk of incurring frostbite.

Hypothermia – can occur during longer periods of exposure when the body temperature dips below 95F. A person will become disoriented, confused, and shiver uncontrollably, eventually leading to drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. In severe cases, death is possible. Older people are at greater risk than younger adults for hypothermia, since they are not able to generate heat as quickly.  Also, alcohol and certain medications may prevent the body from generating heat normally. Medications which may be a factor include:

  • Anti-depressants
  • Sedatives
  • Tranquilizers

Trench Foot – (also called immersion foot) occurs as the result of having feet immersed in cold water at temperatures above freezing for long periods of time. Although similar to frostbite, it is considered to be less severe. However, much like frostbite, symptoms consist of a tingling, itching or burning sensation. Blisters may be present as well.

Although not a disorder, OVER EXERTION, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow, may cause a heart attack.

Tips to Avoid the Dangers of Winter Storms:

  • Avoid over exertion
  • Drink plenty of liquids, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Most people associate dehydration with warm weather and perspiration, but the fact is it is easy to become dehydrated in cold weather.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing. Loose clothing “breathes” more readily.
  • Wear a hat. Up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when one’s head is left exposed.
  • Always wear insulated boots or other footwear.
  • Keep a change of dry clothing available in case work clothes become wet.
  • Have a winter storm survival kit in your home and vehicles
  • Be sure to receive the latest weather information from the National Weather Service

Items to Have before the Storm Strikes:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Extra food and water. High energy foods such as dried fruit, nuts, and granola bars, and food requiring no cooking or refrigeration
  • Extra medicine and baby items
  • First-aid supplies
  • Heating fuel. Refuel before you are empty. Fuel carriers may not reach you for days after a winter storm
  • Fire extinguisher, smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Emergency heat source such as fire place, wood burning stove, propane space heaters. (Remember to use properly to prevent a fire and to properly ventilate)

To learn more about the dangers of winter weather and tactics for preparing for winter storms and treating cold weather disorders, LocalGovU offers an in-depth course online “Dealing with Cold Stress.”

Email us at or call 866.845.8887 to register.

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