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In our last post, we talked about the OSHA Cold Stress Equation, and how cold weather can affect contractors. Today, we’re looking at the effects of frostbite and how to treat frostbite when it occurs.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is when layers of your skin and tissue literally freeze. The skin becomes hard and numb, and appears waxy and white. It usually happens on the fingers, toes, ears, and nose.

How to Treat Frostbite

  • When someone is suffering from frostbite, the first thing you must do is bring the person to a warm, dry area. Never leave the person alone.
  • If the person is wearing any wet or tight clothing, remove it. Tight clothing may restrict blood flow to the affected area, and wet clothing will keep the person from warming up.
  • DO NOT rub the affected area, because that will cause damage to the skin and tissue.
  • Run a warm bath (105°F) and gently place the affected area into it. Warming is a slow process, usually 25-40 minutes, but it’s important not to rush it. Rushing the warming process can cause tissue damage. Slowly warm the tissue and monitor the bath temperature.
  • The affected area may become puffy and blister after being warmed.
  • The affected area may also have a burning feeling or numbness. Once normal feeling, movement, and skin color have returned to the affected area, it should be dried and wrapped in dry, sterile bandages. Do not bandage the affected area too tightly, as that can cause tissue damage. If there’s a chance that the affected area will not be kept warm, and may get cold again, do not warm the skin until you’re certain it wil remain warm. Severe tissue damage will occur if frostbitten skin is warmed and then becomes cold again.

How to Avoid Frostbite

Always wear proper attire. Protective clothing is necessary in temperatures under 4 degrees. Your clothing choice should be determined based on temperature, conditions, duration of activity and the place where the job will take place. Proper clothing should also reduce the chances of excessive sweating.

  • Wear multiple layers when possible.
  • Innermost layer should provide insulation and repel moisture.
  • Thermal underwear made of polyester is best.
  • Wear easily detachable outer layers.
  • External layer should be waterproof.
  • Wear a wool cap under your hard hat to keep heat in.
  • Remove snow before entering warm shelter.
  • Use gloves in temperatures under 4 degrees, and mittens under -17 degrees.
  • Avoid cotton cloth.

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