Cold Stress Program
Indiana University Environmental Health and Safety (IUEHS) has developed this Program to protect employees who are exposed to excessive cold or who work in cold environments while at work. Various factors can contribute to cold stress such as low air temperature, cool high wind, dampness, and cold water. Cold stress can result in hypothermia, frostbite, or trench foot (Appendix C).
This Program applies to all Indiana University employees who are exposed to or may become exposed to excessive cold during the course of performing their job duties.
Authority and responsibility
- University Environmental Health and Safety (IUEHS) is responsible for:
- Assisting departments in implementing the provisions of this Program;
- Revising and updating the Program as necessary;
- Validating Program implementation;
- Providing training and education resources regarding cold stress; and
- Performing cold exposure assessments for employees and reporting the results when necessary.
- Facility Services and/or Physical Plant (FS/PP) is responsible for:
- Determining and reporting outdoor wind chill index to effected departments as specified in this Program; and
- Providing emergency heat when necessary.
- Departments and Supervisors are responsible for:
- Ensuring employees are trained in identifying the signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses;
- Assessing employees work load and assigning work and rest schedules as needed;
- Monitoring the wind chill index and pursuing, implementing, and enforcing the use of proper protective equipment (PPE) for employees as specified in this Program;
- Notifying IUEHS for the respective campus of specialized job task or environments, as defined in this Program, that require a cold exposure assessment;
- Reporting the results of all cold exposure assessment to employees; and
- Following their respective campus procedure for reporting occupational injuries and illnesses.
- Employees are responsible for:
- Working in accordance with the provisions of this Program;
- Understanding the signs and symptoms of cold-related illnesses;
- Notifying the supervisor if conditions exist that may lead to a cold-related illness; and
- Notifying the supervisor if they experience symptoms of a cold-related illnesses.
IUEHS has developed protective criteria for employees based upon the wind chill and other measures of cold stress exposure. The wind chill factor combines both air temperatures and wind speed into a single unit (Appendix A). The lower the wind chill the colder the environment will feel and the greater the risk that employees will experience a cold-related illness.
Individual susceptibility to cold-related illness can vary widely between employees. Risk factors include: wetness/dampness; proper dress; exhaustion; predisposing health conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, and diabetes; and poor physical conditioning.
Employees gradually acclimatize when exposed to cold conditions. This may take several weeks. When the wind chill is low, special precautions are needed to protect un-acclimatized employees while they adjust to the cold particularly on the first few days they are exposed to cold conditions. Supervisors should monitor employees closely for signs of cold stress during this period and they should adopt appropriate work-rest schedules for these employees, starting with longer rest periods, that are adjusted over a two week period. Re-acclimatization may also be necessary when employees are away from the cold conditions for a few days.
For employees working outdoors without heat, scheduled breaks in warm areas are appropriate (Appendix B). If available, use wind barricades to block the wind from the employees. Employees should drink warm sweet beverages and take breaks in warm areas as needed. Supervisors should consider scheduling the most work for the warmest part of the day, assigning extra employees to high demand tasks that will require longer periods in cold areas. All employees should watch out for the safety of their coworkers and work in pairs, if possible.
Other environments and job tasks
Indiana University has a very diverse set of work environments and job tasks. If the work environment or work condition is not specifically addressed above, or if an employee reports and/or experiences cold-related symptoms in a particular environment or during a specific job task, a cold exposure assessment may be necessary to ensure safe work conditions or to identify appropriate protective measures. Utilizing the results of the cold exposure assessment and the most recent guidelines specified by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), IUEHS will provide specific recommendations and precautions for the job task and/or environment.
A new employee should not be required to work in the cold for an extended time during the first days of employment until they become adjusted to the working condition and required protective clothing. New employees should be introduced to the work schedule slowly and trained accordingly.
Personal protective equipment
PPE is an important factor in preventing cold-related illnesses and injuries. Employees should adhere to the following recommendations when dressing for work in a cold environment:
- Wear at least three layers of clothing; an inner layer of wool, silk, or synthetic to wick moisture away from the body; a middle layer or wool or synthetic to provide insulation even when wet; an outer wind and rain protection layer that allows some ventilation to prevent overheating.
- Wear a hat or hood (up to 40 percent of body heat can be lost when the head is left exposed);
- Wear insulated boots or other footwear and wool socks.
- Do not wear tight clothing (loose clothing provides better ventilation); and
- Keep a change of clothing available in case work clothes become wet.
Cold related illnesses and emergencies
If employees report or supervisors observe signs and symptoms of a cold-related illness, stop all activity immediately. Hypothermia and frostbite are medical emergencies. Call the Designated Medical Service Provider for the respective campus immediately if an employee shows any sign of a cold-related illness/injury. If an employee is believed to be experiencing cold-related symptoms, Appendix C provides a list of recommended actions. These recommended actions should only be used as a guide to respond appropriately to known or reported symptoms. In all cases of cold-related symptoms noted in Appendix C, employees should be referred to the Designated Medical Services Provider for the respective campus immediately. IUEHS should then be contacted prior to the continuation of work by other employees.
Training and recordkeeping
Cold stress prevention training is available by contacting IUEHS for your respective campus.
New Document: October 2015