Tips and information for protecting your employees during the winter season.

Winter and Its Workers - Keeping Warm in the Winter Months

When winter rolls around the corner, we begin to prepare for the brutally cold temperatures that lie ahead of us. Everyone dreads it. Those who have to work in these freezing temperatures are no exception. Employees who are required to be outside for long periods of time, in areas of poor insulation or without heat have a high chance of being exposed to some sort of cold stress while on the job. There are many different conditions that fall under the term cold stress. Some of the most dangerous conditions include hypothermia, immersion hypothermia, and frostbite.

All of these cold stress conditions are dangerous in their own ways, and if not taken care of, can cause serious damage to your body or even death. We think it is very important to take the time to go through each of these cold stress conditions so workers become more aware of recognizing symptoms, and how to take care of your body when or if this unfortunate event ever occurs.

Hypothermia

            Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it, and the long exposure to cold temperatures will eventually use up all of your body’s stored up energy. When your body temperature is too low it affects your brain making it difficult for a person to think clearly or move well.

 Early symptoms include…

  • Shivering, fatigue, loss of coordination, confusion and disorientation.

Late symptoms include…

  • No shivering, blue skin, dilated pupils, slowed pulse and breathing, and loss of consciousness.

How to help a worker with Hypothermia…

  • Request medical assistance.
  • Move to warm room or shelter.
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Warm center of the body first; chest, neck, head, and groin using an electric blanket.
  • Use skin to skin contact under loose dry layers of blanket, clothing towels, or sheets.
  • Warm beverages.
  • CPR is no pulse is read.

Cold Water Immersion (Immersion Hypothermia)

            Cold water immersion develops much faster than regular hypothermia. The reason for this is due to the fact that water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air. Cold water immersion can occur in any water below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You will feel similar symptoms as to those of Hypothermia.

Precautions to take when working in cold water…

  • Wear proper clothing including wool and synthetics, NOT cotton.
  • Wear a life vest, immersion suit, or dry suit.
  • Have a way to signal rescuers.
  • Have a plan on how to be retrieved from the water.

Frostbite

         Frostbit occurs when there is a reduced blood flow to a certain area of your body due to the freezing or below freezing temperatures. It most commonly occurs in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Workers who already have reduced blood circulation are at higher risk.

Symptoms of frostbite include…

  • Numbness, tingling, stinging, aching, bluish or pail/waxy skin.

First Aid

  • Go into a warm room.
  • Immerse area in warm NOT hot water.
  • Do not rub or massage
  • Do not use any sort of heat conductor to warm area, skin is sensitive and will burn easily.

How to Prevent the Risks of Cold Stress

Employers can help prevent cold stress by offering employees…

  • A warm resting area.
  • Provide training to educate employees on cold stress conditions.
  • Schedule jobs on the warmest part of the day.
  • Provide warm liquids for workers. 

Employees can help themselves by…

  • Wearing appropriate clothing that is layered and loose.
  • Protect your ears, head, face, hands, and feet
  • Wear waterproof and insulated boots
  • Wear a hat at all times
  • Carry an extra pair of warm dry clothing.