Don't fall victim to cold stress

  • Published
  • By 579th Medical Group
  • 79th Medical Wing
Cold stress, like heat stress, can be a health risk to personnel. Cold stress can affect mission accomplishment, especially if it involves working outdoors during winter months. It is critical to be able to anticipate potential for cold stress, recognize the signs and symptoms of cold stress, and implement preventive measures.

A primary factor to cold stress is wind chill. For any given air temperature, wind increases the potential for body heat loss and skin cooling, therefore decreasing internal body temperature. The wind-chill index integrates wind speed and air temperature to provide an estimate of the cooling power of the environment and the associated risk of cold injury.

Keeping the internal (core) body temperature from falling below 96.8ºF (36ºC) will prevent cold stress injury (see the table below for the different types of cold injuries). Generally, core temperatures will not fall until many hours of continuous exposure to cold air have elapsed. If individuals are reasonably healthy, physically fit and dressed appropriately, it is also unlikely to occur.

Be aware that one of the first signs that you may be a victim of cold stress is feeling pain in your body's extremities (i.e. fingers, toes, hands, arms, feet, legs). In addition, as the core body temperature decreases, performance degradation and injuries can result. Plan carefully to avoid unnecessary periods where personnel are left standing in the open and be prepared for sudden weather changes.

Cold environment guidelines should also be implemented by shop supervisors for those individuals working in such extreme cold weather conditions. Types of guidelines include personnel being allowed to seek relief periodically from potentially dangerous cold stress situations, allowing breaks in sheltered/heated areas, allowing consumption of warm beverages/hot food, and replacement of wet clothing with dry clothing, etc.).