By: Melanie Forti, Programs Director

Throughout the year farmworkers are exposed to extreme working conditions from physical strains to extreme weather conditions.   Constant exposure to cold temperatures can put farmworkers at risk from suffering cold stress.  Working in cold conditions can be deadly if you don’t take the proper precautions.

Cold stress occurs when the skin temperature and the internal body temperature drop to <95°F. When agricultural workers are exposed to cold temperatures, their bodies lose heat faster than it can be produced. In other words, the body is forced to work harder to maintain its normal temperature in a cold environment.

Cold stress doesn’t only happen when conditions are below freezing, it can also happen in temperatures in the 50’s mixed with rain and/or wind.

Contrary to common beliefs, outdoor workers tend to suffer mostly from cold stress during spring and fall instead of winter.

When the body temperature is too low it affects the brain, which may lead to taking bad decisions, not thinking clearly or even move well. Constant exposure to cold can result in suffering from hypothermia, frostbites, trench foot, chilblains or unusually low body temperature.

Body Temperature:

  • Normal body temperature 98.6°F
  • Body temperature drops below 86°F the control system becomes ineffective
  • Below 59°F the body begins to experience impairment of many functions
  • Most hypothermia results when ambient temperature is between 30° and 40°F

OSHA does not have a specific standard that covers working in cold environments. However, employers must provide workers a safe and healthy work environment in order to prevent cold stress that may lead to death or serious physical harm as specified on Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

DOWNLOAD:  Protecting Workers from Cold Stress (English and Spanish)

Cold Stress contributing factors:

  • Cold air temperature
  • High velocity air movement
  • Dampness of the air
  • Contact with cold water or surfaces
  • Poor physical conditioning
  • Having pre-existing medical condition


Prevention is the best way to deal with cold stress. 

What should you do to avoid suffering from cold stress?

  • Recognize the environmental and workplace conditions that may be dangerous
    • Ask yourself if it’s cold, will it get colder, do I have the proper protection
  • Plan for work in cold weather ahead of time
    • Check the weather conditions on your phone, newspaper, local news tv channel or radio
  • Wear appropriate clothing for cold, wet and windy conditions
    • Wear multiple layers of clothing so you can put or take off and provides better protection than a single thick garment
    • Wear closed shoes with socks
  • Avoid alcohol, certain medications, and smoking to minimize risk
  • Learn the signs and symptoms of cold-induced illnesses and first aid
  • Take a frequent short break in warm dry shelters to allow their bodies to warm up
  • Try to schedule work for the warmest part of the day
  • Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm
  • Use the buddy system – work in pairs so that one worker can recognize danger signs
  • Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks) and avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, sodas or hot chocolate) or alcohol
  • Eat warm, high-calorie foods such as hot pasta dishes
  • Ask your doctor if your pre-existing condition can be worsen if you work in cold temperatures



Occurs when core body temperature decreases to below 95°F; can occur in air temperatures below or above freezing;
or water temperatures; serious medical emergency, can be fatal.


Early Symptoms:

·         Shivering

·         Fatigue

·         Loss of coordination

·         Confusion and disorientation

Late Symptoms:

·         No shivering

·         Blue skin

·         Dilated pupils

·         Slowed pulse and breathing

·         Loss of consciousness

First Aid:

·         Alert the supervisor and request medical assistance.

·         Move the victim into a warm room or shelter.

·         Remove any wet clothing.

·         Warm the center of their body first-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket (if available) or skin-to-skin contact

·         Keep the victim dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.

·         If victim has no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).



Ice crystal formation in skin and other tissues of the body at or below freezing (32°F); causes permanent damage and destruction to blood vessels and other structures, can result in amputation.


·         Reduced blood flow to hands and feet (fingers or toes can freeze)

·         Numbness

·         Tingling or stinging

·         Aching

·         Bluish or pail, waxy skin

First Aid:

·         Get into a warm room as soon as possible.

·         Avoid walk on frostbitten feet or toes-this increases the damage.

·         Immerse the affected area in warm-not hot-water

·         Warm the affected area using body heat; for example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.

·         Do not rub or massage the frostbitten area

·         Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming.



Exposure of wet feet (or hands, other body areas) to cold temperatures over hours to days at or above freezing (32°F to 50°F); damages nerves and muscles; can cause permanent damage.


·         Reddening of the skin

·         Numbness

·         Leg cramps

·         Swelling

·         Tingling pain

·         Blisters or ulcers

·         Bleeding under the skin

·         Gangrene

First Aid:

·         Remove shoes/boots and wet socks.

·         Dry their feet.

·         Avoid walking on feet, as this may cause tissue damage.



Mild cold injury due to prolonged and repeated exposure for several hours to temperatures above freezing (32°F to 60°F); affected skin is swollen, red, tingly, painful, and itchy.


·         Redness

·         Itching

·         Possible blistering

·         Inflammation

·         Possible ulceration in severe cases

First Aid:

·         Avoid scratching

·         Slowly warm the skin

·         Use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling

·         Keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered