It's Captain Obvious hear to point out that it is dangerously cold out and working in the cold can cause several types of cold stress injuries. Working in cold conditions isn't just uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. Frostbite, numbness, dehydration and hypothermia are real concerns from chilly outdoor weather. If you are working outdoors this winter, be aware of the dangers and stay safe.
Dress warmly, in layers. Preserving an air space between the body and the outer layer of clothing will help retain body heat. Choose fabrics such as cotton or wool, which insulate but also allow sweat to evaporate. It is especially important to protect the feet, hands, head, and face. These parts of the body are farthest from the heart and are the hardest to keep warm. Almost half your body heat can be lost through the head, so cover it up as well.
Keep dry. Wetness greatly increases the chance of cold stress. Always have extra clothing available if there's a chance you could get wet. Keep your feet dry, they are very susceptible to frostbite.
Take a break. You may think it's wise to keep on working in cold temperatures. After all, working makes you break a sweat and you feel warmer. But if you become fatigued during physical activity, your body loses its ability to properly retain heat. This causes rapid cooling which can quickly lead to cold stress. When you take a break, be sure to replace lost fluids and calories by drinking warm, sweet, caffeine-free nonalcoholic drinks and soup. If you are getting overly fatigued in cold weather, developing symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, you need to stop work and report it to your Field Supervisor and/or Superintendent about taking a short break.
Eat right. A proper diet provides your body with the nutrients it needs to withstand cold stress. A restrictive diet may deprive your body the ability to work well in cold temperatures.
Learn what to look out for. The effects of cold stress may not be apparent to its victim. The first symptoms of hypothermia are uncontrollable shivering and the sensation of cold. The heartbeat slows and may become irregular, and the pulse weakens. As the condition worsens, severe shaking or rigid muscles may be evident. The victim may also have slurred speech, memory lapses, and drowsiness. Cool skin, slow, irregular breathing, and exhaustion occur as the body temperature drops even lower. This is a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention.
Frostbite can occur without accompanying hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when the fluids around the body's tissues freeze. The most vulnerable parts of the body are the nose, cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes. Symptoms of frostbite include coldness and tingling in the affected part, followed by numbness; changes in skin color to white or grayish-yellow, initial pain, which subsides as the condition, worsens, and possibly blisters. Frostbite can cause irreversible tissue damage and requires immediate medical attention.
If you work in lower-temperature environments, always be alert for the possibility of cold stress. Follow these guidelines to help protect yourself from injury. Remember that it doesn't have to be freezing for cold stress to occur. Take steps to protect yourself.
If you are working outside or in spaces that are not protected from the exterior environment, communicate with your field supervisor and Superintendent of any cold-weather safety related concerns or issues that you may have so we can address them. Also, we are all in this together. Look out for each other, check on each other, communicate with each other to ensure our brothers and sisters are safe! Should you have any questions about working in the cold, please contact our Safety Director, Peter Graham at (847) 417-1689.
Have a Safe Day!