- Creative Commons

Creative Commons

It began as a normal day except Hank’s alarm didn’t go off and he was running late. He layered himself for the storm conditions, picked up his hat and gloves and rushed out the door.

Working for the State Highway department, his focus for the day – moving pristine white snow from the roads.  When moving massive amounts of snow he hit something under the snow.  It stopped the truck which forced him out of the truck to inspect for damage and remove what was blocking his path. 

Digging out the snow around the truck took longer than expected.  He thought to radio for help, but this truck was a backup and without a radio.  His cell phone would not dial out as he was located in a low spot that didn’t allow him to dial out.  So, he buckled down and began to dig again, but his hands became stiff and numb. 

When exposed to cold temperature, the human body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Low temperatures effect the brain making the worker a victim simply because thinking becomes cloudy and Hank may not even realize what is happening to him. 


You may have a greater risk of developing frostbite if you:

  • Have poor blood circulation
  • Are not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

  • a white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy numbness

A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

Emergency Action for Frostbite

If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. First determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If (1) there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and (2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

  • Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes — this increases the damage.
  • Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all.
  • This can cause more damage.
  • Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
  • Make cold weather packs that include hand warmers

These procedures are not substitutes for proper medical care. Hypothermia is a medical emergency and frostbite should be evaluated by a health care provider.


Most victims of hypothermia are often:

  • Older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
  • Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
  • People who remain outdoors for long periods — the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
  • People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs
  • Workers who are exposed to the elements.

Warnings signs of hypothermia for the adult include:

  • shivering, exhaustion
  • confusion, fumbling hands
  • memory loss, slurred speech drowsiness

Emergency Action for Hypothermia Includes:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
  • Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately.

Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided.

CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available.

In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

Be prepared for winter weather emergencies. Have employees work in pairs, rotate jobs that require exposure to cold. 

Employers must understand that employees will slow down as they work in cooler environments. Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be provided for cold weather as it is considered specialized protection and should be paid for by the employer.  PPE should include:


  1. Inner Layer: Wear fabrics that will hold more body heat and don’t absorb moisture. Wool, silk, or polypropylene will hold more body heat than cotton.
  2. Insulation Layer: An insulation layer will help you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Natural fibers, like wool or goose down, or a classic fleece work best.
  3. Outer Layer: The outermost layer helps protect you from wind, rain, and snow. It should be tightly woven, and preferably water and wind resistant, to reduce loss of body heat.

Additional Tips:

  • Stay dry — wet clothing chills the body rapidly.
  • Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
  • Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body.
  • Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
  • Employees should clear snow from tailpipes to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.