Frostbite is an injury to body tissues caused by extreme cold and resulting in loss of skin color, redness, pain, and blistering. Frostbite damages tissue cells, causes blood clots, causes tissue death, and can occur on any part of body. However, nose, ears, fingers, and toes are the most susceptible parts of the body. Extreme cold, improper clothing, wet clothes, wind chill, and exposure to liquid nitrogen or other cryogenic liquids can cause frostbite. If it is on the skin surface called it is called frostnip, which causes the skin to become numb and turn yellow. If the skin freezes and becomes hardened, blistered, or the skin color changes to black it is called superficial frostbite. Deep frostbite is occurs when deeper tissues freeze and can be extremely dangerous. Frostnip can be treated by blowing warm breath or warm water (not hot water) on the affected area. If skin is hardened and black the affected part can be treated with warm water (not hot water) or by covering the area to make it warm and ensure it will not freeze again. The affected person must be moved to a warmer area and kept warm. Hospital treatment is required for moderate or severe cases of frostbite. OSHA does not have a specific standard that addresses working in a cold environment or dealing with injuries caused by cold weather, but OSHA does require all employees to be protected against cold stress hazards. Employees should be trained for cold stress conditions to be able to prevent cold stress and select the proper clothing according to the weather conditions at the workplace.

  1. Frostbite Procedures:
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing when exposed to wet and windy weather.
  • Use warm clothes to keep your head and face warm. Be sure to have good boots and gloves available.
  • Take periodic breaks to warm up when working in cold conditions.
  • Avoid smoking, and drink plenty of liquids (not caffeine or alcohol).
  • If possible, schedule work for warmer times during the day.
  • Use all required PPE.
  • Work in pairs.
  • Provide engineering controls when possible.
  • All employees should be trained on frostbite and cold stress.
  • Employees should be able to recognize the hazards of cold conditions, symptoms of cold stress, and how to prevent cold stress.
  • If you or another employee is experiencing frostbite:
  • Affected person must be moved to a warmer area and must remove any wet clothing.
  • Do not use direct heat from heating pads, radiators, or fire.
  • Do not rub or massage the skin or break the blister.

Seek medical attention, if needed.