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Don’t be fooled, even California workers can suffer cold stress

On Behalf of | Jan 17, 2019 | Workplace Injuries |

There is never a shortage of warnings about the hazards of heat exposure in California. However, if you are a worker who spends a significant portion of your days working outdoors, you might be exposed to cold stress on the coldest days of the winter — even in a climate that is mostly Mediterranean. The term cold stress refers to several health risks and injuries that could cause you to land up in the hospital.

Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains the different cold-stress related conditions that can develop. They suggest that workers look out for each other and seek medical attention as soon as telltale signs of cold stress becomes evident. Just like with heat stress in the summer, you and your co-workers can learn about the symptoms of cold stress and act promptly when they first appear.


Exposure to extreme cold can cause frostbite within minutes. This happens when body parts like toes, fingers and the nose freeze. You should move into a warm place and slowly warm the frostbitten area as soon as the following signs appear:

  • Numbness
  • Waxy, cold and firm skin
  • Patches of grayish-yellow, blue or white skin discoloration

If left untreated, frostbite could lead to amputations.


If you work in conditions in which your body heat drops too fast for it to generate heat to maintain a safe core temperature, hypothermia will set in. The most significant danger is that this condition might affect your ability to think clearly, and you might not recognize the following symptoms:

  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Shivering
  • Drowsiness and limited movement
  • Slurred Speech

If your condition is severe, you might lose consciousness, and if you do not receive emergency care, it could be fatal.


Following periods of exposure to very cold conditions, your hands and feet might develop small sores on the skin surface. You might notice the following telltale signs of chilblains:

  • Blistering bumps
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Discolored patches of purple or red skin

Chilblains do not typically cause long-term or permanent health problems.

Trench Foot

If your working conditions leave your feet cold and damp for extended periods, you might develop this painful condition. You might be smart to see that you always have extra clean, dry socks with you to replace damp ones as soon as you experience the following symptoms:

  • Tingling and itching sensations
  • Blisters and sores
  • Flaky, blotchy and cold skin

Medical attention is crucial because untreated trench foot can lead to amputations due to tissue death.

Workers’ compensation

Do not be fooled by the fact that California weather is mostly warm and dry, and although freezing temperatures are rare, winters are wet. Be particularly alert if you work night shifts during the winter because wet weather and low temperatures exacerbate the risks of cold-stress.

If you were the victim of cold stress, you might be concerned about the unanticipated financial burden of medical bills and lost wages. You can rest assured because help is available through the California workers’ compensation insurance system. You could even utilize the services of experienced legal counsel to assist with the navigation of benefits claims.