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When Working in the Cold, Be Prepared and Be Aware

Man shoveling snowSome cold weather dangers are obvious, but others are harder to see. When you must work in the cold, always be prepared and be aware.

When workers do jobs in the cold, there are many risks. Some cold weather dangers are obvious, but others are harder to see. Sometimes you might not even think it's very cold, but a cold-related illness or injury can still harm you.

When you must work in the cold, always be prepared and be aware.

Be Prepared

Workers who must be in the cold should wear warm clothing that is right for the weather. Wear several layers of loose clothing. Layering provides better insulation.

Wear gloves to protect the hands, and a hat and/or hood to protect the head. In wet conditions, wear waterproof shoes that have good traction. Make sure that your cold weather gear does not restrict your movement or block your eyesight.

Man working in snow

Be prepared by wearing warm clothing.

Snow plow

Be aware that cold temperatures can lead to illness and injury.

Be prepared for working in the cold, even if the cold temperatures are not extreme. It's obvious that bitter cold and howling winds can harm you, but did you know that you could suffer cold-related illness and injuries when it is as warm as 60° F?

Be Aware


One of the biggest dangers from working in the cold can be the hardest to recognize. Hypothermia happens when your body temperature drops below 95° F. Mild hypothermia can make you feel confused, and you may not realize anything is wrong until it is too late. Being too cold can also cloud your judgment and cause you to make mistakes while you work, and mistakes can sometimes be deadly.

Early symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, feeling tired, loss of coordination, and confusion. As your body loses more heat, the shivering will stop, your skin may turn blue, the pupils of your eye will dilate, your pulse and breathing will slow, and you will lose consciousness.

You can avoid becoming too cold by wearing appropriate clothing for the cold weather.

For more information about hypothermia and other cold weather injuries, see the NIOSH Fast Facts card, Protecting Yourself from Cold Stress [PDF - 576KB].


Many parts of the body are prone to frostbite, including your fingers, toes, nose, and ears. Frostbite happens when a part of the body freezes, and damaging the tissue. If the tissue can't be saved, the body part may need to be removed to prevent even worse health problems. Warning signs of frostbite include numbness or tingling, stinging, or pain on or near the affected body part. Avoid frostbite by being aware of the weather and wearing protective clothing such as warm gloves, insulated shoes, and warm hats. The colder it is, the faster frostbite can set in, so you shouldn't stay in the cold any longer than you needed.

Other Cold Weather Injuries

You can get trench foot when your feet are wet and cold for too long. Moisture causes your feet to lose heat, and this can slow the blood flow and damage tissue. Trench foot can happen when it is as warm as 60° F.

Sometimes cold weather can damage your skin and cause chilblains. This problem can cause broken skin, swelling, blisters, redness, and itching. It can also happen when it is as warm as 60° F.

Be Ready for the Cold

If you have to work in the cold, always wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather. Remember prolonged exposures to cold temperatures could cause you to make poor decisions or react more slowly than normal. Tell your supervisor if you are not dressed warmly enough. Pay attention to warning signs and symptoms of hypothermia, frostbite, and other cold-related illnesses and injuries.

  • Page last reviewed: November 24, 2015
  • Page last updated: November 24, 2015
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