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When you confront a HAZWOPER situation, you’re not only dealing with the hazards of the chemicals or substances released, but you are also facing the stresses of the environment around you.

Cold stress

Cold exposure is always a concern in the industry. When you wear clothing designed to keep you safe, not warm, there’s a chance the elements become more hazardous than the substance you need to clean up. When you respond to emergencies, you must be knowledgeable on cold stress conditions like hypothermia and frostbite.


Hypothermia can be a life-threatening condition that can develop whenever temperatures are cool, and your clothing is wet or damp. Symptoms of hypothermia include:

  • Uncontrollable shivering;
  • Slurred speech;
  • Weakness or stiffness of muscles;
  • Drowsiness, fatigue, and confusion;
  • Lack of coordination;
  • Stumbling; and/or
  • Blue or whiteish skin and loss of sensation.


Frostbite can be very painful and lead to amputation or death in severe cases. Frostbite is especially dangerous because symptoms can develop quickly and cause severe damage. Signs of frostbite include:

  • Reduced blood flow to hands and feet (fingers and toes),
  • Numbness,
  • Tingling,
  • Stinging,
  • Aching, and/or
  • Blushing or pale, waxy skin.

Your employer must protect you from harsh conditions on the job. It’s never a bad idea to ask them about taking breaks throughout each work shift. Be sure you drink sweet, warm fluids like hot chocolate or tea. You can also ask your employer for heating devices (portable heaters, hand warmers, etc.). These easy fixes can make the difference between life and death!