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  • Writer's pictureJoe Mlynek, CSP, OHST


Updated: Apr 3

Old man winter will undoubtedly throw us a few curveballs over the next several months. With this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to review a few cold related illnesses and preventive measures.


Hypothermia occurs when normal body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit as a result of low temperatures, brisk winds, or wet clothing that reduces body heat at a greater rate than it can be produced. These conditions will eventually exhaust the body’s stored energy. The body reacts to hypothermic conditions by displaying a number of symptoms including fatigue, drowsiness, uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, clumsy movements or irritability, irrational behavior, or general confusion.

Persons displaying these symptoms will need immediate medical assistance. Until assistance arrives remove the person to a warm, dry area and remove wet clothing. Replace wet clothing and wrap the person in a blanket or other material t

hat will help retain body heat. Instruct them to move their legs and arms to generate heat and warm the body’s core. Warm beverages may also increase body temperature. Avoid caffeinated drinks which can lead to dehydration.


Frostbite is a condition in which the tissue below the skin freezes. Symptoms may include pale or waxy white skin and numbness. Frostbite usually affects extremities such as fingers, toes, feet, ears, and the nose. Frostbite can also permanently damage body tissue and in extreme cases lead to amputation.

Should a person display frostbite symptoms, move them to a warm and dry area immediately. Remove wet or constrictive clothing that reduces blood circulation. Avoid warming affected areas with heating pads, hot water, heat lamps, etc. Affected areas that are numb can be easily burned. It is also important to not rub affected areas. This can cause additional tissue damage.

Eliminating/Reducing Exposure

There are several strategies that can eliminate or reduce the potential for cold related illnesses and injuries. The most effective approach is selecting the right attire. Dressing in loose fitting layers allows a person to keep their core temperature constant. A person can remove layers to avoid overheating and add layers to retain heat. Today’s undergarments often use materials such as polypropylene and wool to allow moisture to pass through clothing rather than accumulate near the skin. This is often referred to as wicking. Cotton clothing does little to wick perspiration away from the skin. The skin in turn becomes moist and cold leading to rapid loss of body heat.

Other efforts that can reduce exposure to cold related illnesses and injuries include taking frequent breaks to warm the body, performing work during the warmest part of the day, and eating frequently. Eating stimulates the digestive process and creates heat which warms a person’s core temperature.


Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, Inc. He has over 20 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at

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