Trench foot or immersion foot can occur at air temperatures as high as 60°F.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes OSHA Quick Card, Protecting Workers from Cold Stress for outdoor workers, including construction workers and trade craft. The OSHA Quick Card highlights the following five areas about cold stress during cold weather and low temperature events, for safety and health on the construction site:

  1. Common types of cold stress;
  2. Risk factors;
  3. Prevention by the employer;
  4. Prevention by the worker, and;
  5. How to treat a worker suffering from cold stress.

OSHA explains that “cold temperatures and increased wind speed (wind chill) cause heat to leave the body more quickly, putting workers at risk of cold stress,” including construction workers and trade craft in the outdoors. The National Weather Service defines “wind chill” or “wind chill factor” as a measure of the effect of increased wind speeds that accelerate heat loss from exposed skin, during low temperature events and high wind events.

Three Common Types of Cold Stress

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that “…serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold.” Further, the OSHA Quick Card, Protecting Workers from Cold Stress highlights three common types of cold stress:

  1. Hypothermia;
  2. Frostbite, and;
  3. Trench foot or immersion foot.
Trench Foot or Immersion Foot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines trench foot or immersion foot as “an injury of the feet resulting from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. The injury occurs because wet feet lose heat 25-times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die because of lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products.”

Symptoms Trench Foot or Immersion Foot

The CDC notes that symptoms of trench foot or immersion foot include:

  • Reddening of the skin;
  • Numbness;
  • Leg cramps;
  • Swelling;
  • Tingling pain;
  • Blisters or ulcers;
  • Bleeding under the skin, and;
  • Gangrene (the foot may turn dark purple, blue, or gray).

Further, trench foot or immersion foot can occur at air temperatures as high as 60°F, if feet are constantly wet. Accordingly, trench foot or immersion foot can occur both during the winter season and during the “shoulder” months, from May to June and from September to October where the air temperatures range from 45°F to 65°F throughout the day.

How to Treat Trench Foot or Immersion Foot

When construction workers and trade craft suffer from trench foot or immersion foot:

  • Remove shoes/boots;
  • Remove wet socks;
  • Dry feet;
  • Avoid walking on feet, as this may cause tissue damage;
  • Keep affected feet elevated, and;
  • Get medical attention.
About OSHA

OSHA is part of the United States Department of Labor. The administrator for OSHA is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. OSHA’s administrator answers to the Secretary of Labor, who is a member of the cabinet of the President of the United States.

OSHA’s Mission

With the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Congress created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.

About the CDC Organization

The CDC is one of the major operating components of the Department of Health and Human Services. View CDC’s Official Mission Statements/Organizational Charts to learn more about CDC′s organizational structure.

CDC’s Mission

CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

CDC increases the health security of our nation. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC saves lives and protects people from health threats. To accomplish our mission, CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.

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(Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration. OSHA Quick Card, Protecting Workers from Cold Stress. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor, n.d. Print.)

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