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Tips on Preventing Frostbite on the Job Site

During the winter, many outdoor professions pack it in and wait for spring. But for some workers in construction, utilities, and other essential industries, winter is business as usual. Projects that can’t afford a delay will often keep moving during winter, and workers in many industries will have to keep answering service calls.

That means that workers have to face down one of their most dangerous and insidious enemies: frostbite. Even a mild case of frostbite can cause extreme pain that leaves you unable to work, and a severe case can mean losing fingers or toes. Fighting this enemy means knowing the signs to look for and getting the right gear.

The tips we’ll discuss here will help you prevent frostbite on the job site. Your winter workwear, your preparations, and your knowledge of frostbite will each have a role to play in protecting you from this dangerous condition—so it’s time to learn what you need to know.

  1. Know what frostbite is.

Objective number one is to know your enemy. Frostbite is damage to the skin and tissues caused by extreme cold. How does that happen? It’s a deceptively simple process:

  1. In cold weather, blood flow to your extremities (such as your hands, feet, and face) will often become more restricted as your heart works harder to pump blood to distant parts of your body.
  2. When the skin and the tissues underneath it lose blood flow from the cold, they begin to freeze.
  3. Freezing damages both the skin and the underlying tissue. If the freezing is allowed to continue, the damage can become permanent and even require the amputation of fingers or toes in severe cases.

Frostbite can also be caused by touching something extremely cold, such as a piece of metal or ice, for a prolonged period.

  1. Be aware of the symptoms of frostbite.

The sooner you spot an impending case of frostbite, the easier it will be to reverse it and help the victim. The first signs of frostbite, known as frostnip, can appear relatively quickly:

  • An aching, throbbing, tingling, or pins-and-needles feeling in your extremities
  • Reddened skin
  • Numbness

If allowed to go unchecked, frostbite progresses into more advanced symptoms, such as:

  • Hardened, rigid flesh
  • White or bluish skin
  • Blisters and necrosis upon thawing

If you spot any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to put your frostbite response plan (see tip #6 below) into action.

  1. Wear insulated winter hats, gloves, boots, and socks that help keep your extremities warm and prevent frostbite.

Prevention, of course, is always the best option when it comes to safety, and wearing the right insulated cold weather workwear is the most important tool for preventing frostbite on the job. In addition to the obvious must-haves like a winter jacket, it’s also important to pay attention to your choice of accessories like hats, gloves, boots, and socks.

Insulation is the primary factor to look for when choosing winter workwear to protect from frostbite. Many different insulation materials are on the market today, including classics like down and more modern alternatives like synthetic insulation. Synthetic tends to be a great choice for items like boots and gloves because it’s tough and light and it performs very well under wet conditions.

A person whose hand has suffered mild to moderate frostbite.

A person whose hand has suffered mild to moderate frostbite.

  1. Include a moisture-wicking underlayer beneath your workwear.

It’s easier than you might think to get sweaty in the winter, especially when you’re working hard and wearing protective workwear. If that sweat cools and dries on your skin, it will begin to rob your body of precious heat, and you may not even know it’s happening. That can be the perfect opportunity for frostbite to sneak in.

For this reason, a moisture-wicking underlayer can be a game-changer for your cold-weather work outfit. These special fabrics are designed to draw moisture upward and away from your skin, preventing it from stealing your heat. Moisture-wicking socks are a popular option for all kinds of jobs where people stay on their feet all day, and moisture-wicking underlayers for the torso, legs, and head are also frequently used.

  1. Change out of wet clothing right away.

Speaking of moisture, clothing that’s gotten wet is a dangerous invitation to frostbite (and its deadlier cousin, hypothermia). Wet clothing begins stealing heat from your body almost immediately, and it’s among the quickest ways to lose heat when working in the cold.

Your feet are an area to pay particularly close attention to when it comes to wet clothing. If you’re not wearing a high-quality pair of waterproof work boots, a quick trip through a puddle could leave you with wet feet. If you don’t change into some dry footwear quickly, you could be looking at a case of trench foot from spending long hours working without getting your feet dry.

  1. Create a plan for treating frostbite.

If the worst happens and someone starts showing symptoms of frostbite, you can help prevent it from becoming worse by acting quickly. Remember that frostbite should be treated by a medical professional, and the ultimate goal should always be to get a frostbite victim to somewhere that they can get medical care. Have a plan in advance for how you’ll get medical transport if you’re working in a remote location.

However, performing frostbite first aid in the meantime can help. First, move the victim to a warm area or find a way to transport them to one. Have the key supplies for frostbite first aid on hand, such as cotton balls, pain relievers, and a warm blanket. Don’t use heating devices such as a heating pad or blanket, as these can burn the frostbite victim.


Frostbite is a dangerous condition that you don’t want to take any chances with. Taking precautions against it is essential for keeping yourself—and everyone on your job site—safe and productive.



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