This winter has been brutal all across North America, and there have been many cases of people dying from extreme temperatures even in normally warm climates. Cold weather presents a slew of unique dangers that can create many levels of health risk, from the temperatures to the icy conditions they create. When working in cold weather, it is important for workers to keep these risks in mind and manage them effectively when the need arises.
Hypothermia and Frostbite
Hypothermia and frostbite are two of the most serious risks to those working outdoors. When you lose body heat too fast, hypothermia results and can be fatal if not treated quickly. Treatment for hypothermia involves getting the body warmed up and monitoring by medical professionals. The scariest part about hypothermia is that most of the time victims do not realize they are suffering from the condition.
Frostbite, on the other hand, occurs when the extremities freeze. They become numb and hard and may experience a phantom sensation of heat. Since blood flow in the extremities is lower, they are more prone to damage from cold. Fortunately, if you can recognize the symptoms (numbness, pain, pins and needles), frostbite can be easily treated by gradually warming the affected body parts.
Few people worry about dehydration in the cold, but it is a serious risk. The winter air tends to be very dry and can leech moisture from the skin. This results not only in pain and discomfort but can create dehydration as well. Those working in the cold air should make sure to take time to warm up and drink plenty of hot fluids to keep going.
Alcohol and tobacco should be avoided as these cause the body to lose moisture and impairs judgment and reaction time, both of which can be critical in the cold.
Proper personal protective equipment should be used by those working in cold weather. Heavy gloves, layered clothing, head coverings, warm socks and boots with good tread are a must. Frequent breaks to warm up should be taken, and hand warmers be made available. Before going out, stretch to loosen up. The cold will stiffen muscles and make workers more prone to back injuries.
Eating more can be a defense against the cold as well. Since you will be expending more effort to work against the cold and in heavy clothing, you may require up to 15 percent more calories than normal to keep functioning.
Know the Signs
Recognizing the symptoms of a suffering co-worker can save a life. If you witness blue lips, excessive shivering, tiredness, slurred speech, memory problems or bright red skin that is cold, you should seek medical attention immediately. Get the patient to a warm area quickly and cover them in layers of blankets until the doctor arrives.
Do you have any tips for dealing with cold weather on the work site? We would love to hear them. Leave us a comment in the space below!