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The Midwest and Northeast in the United States are currently being hit hard by Winter Storm Hercules, as record-breaking low temperatures tear through the country. For contractors, these cold temperatures can be seriously dangerous if the proper precautions are not taken while working outside. Over the next week, we’re going to talk about a number of winter weather factors that affect contractors, and how to keep yourself safe and healthy during the cold months ahead.

Cold Stress Equation

Some of the illnesses and injuries that contractors risk in the cold weather are trench foot, frostbite, and hypothermia. Another serious problem that exists for contractors is shock as a result of ill-protected work equipment, which could lead to fatal injuries. There are a number of symptoms that may indicate a worker is dangerously cold while working outside in winter weather, including uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech and erratic behavior. If you become aware of any of these signs while on the job, it’s important to get emergency help immediately.


The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published information to educate contractors about the risks of severe winter weather. One of their resources is the Cold Stress Equation, which is: Low Temperature + Wind Speed + Wetness = Injuries and Illness.

The Cold Stress Equation combines significant factors that dramatically affect the body’s ability to sustain itself in certain temperatures. For example, if a person is in a place with wind speeds less than 10mph, they’re at a fairly low risk for freezing, and can sustain being exposed to temperatures as low as -20F for up to an hour. However, if the wind speed is at 40mph, at -20F the person is in danger of their exposed flesh freezing within a single minute, possibly in as little as 30 seconds.

The Cold Stress Equation is important to be aware of in situations where people are in extremely low temperatures, high winds, or wet clothing. In these circumstances, the body becomes unable to warm itself, and people become susceptible to serious, sometimes fatal cold-related illnesses and injuries.

Next time, we’ll review frostbite—what happens to the body and what should be done when frostbite occurs. Stay warm!

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