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Frostbite and Hypothermia: Know the Risks and Prevention

As the winter months settle in, the allure of crisp, frosty mornings and snow-covered landscapes can be enchanting. Yet, for those who work outdoors, this picturesque scene often comes with a chilling reality – battling the elements to accomplish tasks in freezing temperatures. The struggle against winter’s chilling temperatures is not merely a discomfort, for many workers it’s a serious danger that requires attention. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the threats that come with cold weather – hypothermia and frostbite – and equip you with the knowledge on how to identify symptoms, treat, and most importantly, prevent them.


What is hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a condition that’s caused when the body’s core temperature drops below 95°F. This is caused by prolonged exposures to extreme cold weather or from immersion in cold water. Hypothermia can also happen at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled due to the wind, rain, or other conditions. When working in cold temperatures, your body loses its heat faster than it can produce it, long exposure in the cold can eventually use up your body’s stored energy, leading to the lower body temperatures that cause hypothermia.

What are the symptoms of hypothermia?

Low body temperatures can affect the brain, making it hard to think clearly or move well, potentially hindering a person’s ability to know what is happening to them and do something about it. This is why it’s extremely important to know the beginning signs of hypothermia to catch it before it worsens, or to know what hypothermia looks like so you can keep a watch out for it in your coworkers.

Symptoms in mild cases:

  • Shivering
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Pale, cold skin
  • Body temperature may range from 89°F to 95°F

Symptoms in moderate cases:

  • Cessation of shivering
  • Mental confusion
  • Slow and shallow breathing
  • Slow and weak pulse
  • Inability to walk or stand
  • Body temperature may range from 82°F to 89°F

Symptoms in severe cases:

  • Severe muscle stiffness
  • Sleepiness or unconsciousness
  • Extremely cold skin
  • Irregular or difficult to find pulse
  • Body temperature will be lower than 82°F

How do you treat hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a serious condition that requires medical attention as soon as possible. However, if this isn’t possible, follow the steps below to help treat hypothermia until medical attention is available.

  • Carefully move the victim to a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove their wet clothing.
  • Begin to warm the center of the body first (chest, neck, head, and groin) using an electric blanket, or if this isn’t available, with skin-to-skin contact under dry layers of blankets, clothing, or towels.
  • If the victim is conscious, giving them warm, sugary beverages to drink can help increase their body temperature. Do not give them drinks containing alcohol or caffeine.
  • Monitor the victim’s body temperature. Once the body temperature has risen, wrap them in a warm blanket, being sure to cover their head and neck, and keep them dry.
  • If the victim has no pulse, begin CPR immediately until medical help arrives.


What is frostbite?

Frostbite is a cold weather injury that is caused when your skin is exposed to freezing temperatures. It usually affects the extremities first, such as the nose, eyes, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. This can permanently damage the skin and tissue, and in severe cases, even lead to amputation.

What are the symptoms of frostbite?

Be sure to monitor the color and look of your skin when working outside, because as frostbite worsens, you will no longer feel the area.

Symptoms of early stages:

  • Skin is pale or yellow
  • Skin may itch, sting, burn or feel like “pins and needles”

Symptoms of intermediate stages:

  • Skin becomes hard
  • Skin looks shiny or waxy
  • Little to no feeling in the area

Symptoms of late stages:

  • Skin is hard
  • Skin cold to the touch
  • Skin darkens quicky – may appear blue and then black

How do you treat frostbite?

Treatment at a hospital is recommended, especially for severe cases. However, in mild stages, if there are no symptoms of hypothermia, or if no medical attention is available, it is easy to treat frostbite yourself following these steps.

  • Get to a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes. This can further damage them.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm, but not hot, water or warm the affected area using body heat, such as the heat of an armpit to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not use a heating pad, fireplace, or radiator to warm affected areas, because they can burn easily.
  • Do not massage or rub the frostbitten area as this may cause additional damage.


While hypothermia and frostbite can be serious dangers when working in the cold, there are certain measures you can take to prevent these injuries.

  • Before going outside, be sure to dress appropriately for the cold by bundling up in several layers of clothing. Don’t forget to wear gloves and a hat!
  • Check the temperature and be sure to limit your time outdoors if it’s very cold, wet, or windy. This may include taking short breaks every so often throughout your workday or scheduling your work during warmer hours.
  • Be careful not to overexert yourself. When you overexert yourself, you sweat, which can make your clothing wet, causing you to lose body heat more quickly. However, if this is unavoidable, wear a moisture-wicking layer of clothing to help keep you warm and dry!

Check out these 7 Tips for Staying Warm This Season for more ways you can ensure you are staying warm while on the job!

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Need help equipping your team with the right equipment and gear needed to help keep them warm and safe this winter? Contact us today!


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