Cold & Ice

Cold Stress and Safety

What causes cold stress?

Cold stress can affect people in cold or wet environments. Symptoms ranging from shivering to loss of consciousness can occur. Severe cold stress can lead to hypothermia, which can be fatal. Cold stress can result from:

  • Naturally or artificially cooled environments
  • Wind, which pulls heat away from the body
  • Wet clothing, from sweat or water
  • Cold water immersion
  • Fatigue, which makes it harder for the body to create heat

What are the signs and symptoms?

Cold stress can result in several health effects. Most cold related illnesses are gradual and people may not realize they are in danger until it’s too late. Feeling cold is an important warning sign to note. If you feel cold, your body is likely losing heat too quickly and controls may need to be considered.

How to prevent exposures?


Cold Stress Awareness (online) – This course helps increase awareness on cold stress risk factors, cold stress illnesses, and cold stress controls against exposure risks.

General guidance:

  • Monitor cold conditions. If you have to work outdoors it is best to work in pairs, it is possible to prevent cold related illness from occurring if others are educated in the signs and symptoms of the illness.
  • Ensure there is adequate first-aid coverage and emergency procedures are in place.
  • Be aware of and check the signs and symptoms of cold stress.

Review the hierarchy of controls:

  • Move tasks to warmer days, times or environments.
  • Make physical modifications to facilities, equipment, processes to reduce exposure
  • Establish heated warming areas/shelters/vehicle cabs
  • When required, determine appropriate work-warm up schedules; when a worker feels ill it may be too late.
  • Rotate work activities or use additional workers to reduce exposure. Stay hydrated, and limit the amount of coffee or tea.
  • Complete a warm-up prior to working to ensure that the joints and muscles are prepared for work.
  • Wear a warm head covering and layered clothing, and keep hands and feet warm and dry.
  • Consider the need for survival kits

What if someone is feeling ill from cold exposure?

If someone exposed to cold shows signs or reports symptoms of cold stress or injury, they should be removed from further exposure and treated by an appropriate first aid attendant or a physician.

Note: If hypothermia or other severe cold related illnesses are suspected, call 911 immediately then first aid

Additional support, resources and references:

Help stay upright during the winter season.

Adjust Your Gait:

Shorten your stride length to keep your centre of gravity supported. Also, walk with your knees slightly bent, as locking your knees reduces your ability to adjust to a slip.

Slow Down:

Take slow, deliberate steps and be on the lookout for icy spots. Place your whole foot down at once, shifting your weight slowly to this foot before stepping with the other foot.

Balance Your Load:

Consider wearing a backpack. Backpacks keep your load closer to your centre of gravity. Carrying heavy items in your hands hinders your ability to provide balance. You need your arms free to help you recover your balance if you start to slide. Do not walk with your hands in your pockets for this very same reason.

Wear Appropriate Footwear:

Footwear with a thick rubber or non-slip sole is recommended. Avoid wearing heels and footwear with minimal tread.

Entering & Exiting Your Vehicle:

Take care when stepping into/out of your car as you are usually off balance and on only one foot. Consider carrying a bag of sand in your vehicle that you can sprinkle on the ground before exiting the vehicle.

Snow Covered Curbs:

Exercise caution around snow-covered curbs on paths and roadways.

Entering/Exiting Buildings:

Entrance ways may be slippery, exercise caution and report any missing floor mats to Facilities.

Be Prepared. Plan ahead.

Check out ICBC's winter driving website for more information. Winter driving (