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We’ve been talking about the dangers of cold weather that pertain to construction workers of all kinds over this past week, like frostbite and OSHA’s Cold Stress Equation. Today we’re going to discuss the symptoms of hypothermia and how to protect yourself when you’re out on the job.

Hypothermia occurs when you’re out in the cold for too long, to the point where your body is losing heat faster than it’s able to produce heat. When you’re out for a prolonged period of time, your body uses up all of its stored energy while it tries to keep you warm, and when your body temperature drops abnormally low, that’s called hypothermia. When your body temperature is dangerously low, you develop symptoms similar to being inebriated—it’s often difficult to think or move well, because your brain is affected by the cold. Hypothermia is especially dangerous for this reason, because the mental effects that may occur make it difficult for a person to even realize they’re critically cold.

Early Symptoms of Hypothermia

  • Shivering
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and disorientation

Late Symptoms of Hypothermia

  • Blue skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slowed pulse and breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

How to Treat Someone with Hypothermia

  • Immediately request medical assistance.
  • Move the person to a warm room or shelter of some kind.
  • Remove any wet or restrictive clothing.
  • Using an electric blanket if available, warm the center of the body first: the chest, neck, head, and groin; if you don’t have an electric blanket, use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages may help increase body temperature, but do not give the person alcoholic beverages.
  • After his/her body temperature has risen, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket. Be sure to cover the head and neck as well.

Tips for Employers to Protect Workers from Cold Stress

  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for long, demanding jobs.
  • Provide warm beverages for shift workers.
  • Provide warm shelter for break periods.
  • Provide cold stress training, including information about worker risk, prevention, symptoms, the importance of monitoring yourself and your coworkers for symptoms, treatment, and personal protective equipment.

Tips for Workers to Prevent Cold Stress

  • Wear appropriate clothing.
  • Wear multiple layers of loose clothing for better insulation.
  • Do not wear anything tight, especially on your extremities, as it will reduce blood circulation and your hands/feet already have less circulation than the rest of your body.
  • Be sure to protect your ears, face, hands, and feet in extremely cold weather.
  • Make sure your boots are waterproof and insulated.
  • Always wear a hat.
  • Spend break time in warm areas to limit the amount of time you spend outside in extremely cold temperatures.
  • Carry cold weather gear (extra socks, gloves, hats, jackets, blankets, a change of clothing, and a thermos of hot liquid) just in case temperatures drop unexpectedly.
  • Avoid touching cold metal surfaces with bare skin.
  • Be mindful of your physical condition and that of your coworkers at all times.